Your Tablet and Smartphone Could Be Ruining Your Sleep

Many of us are guilty of fiddling with our phones and tablets in bed at night. Whether it’s trying for three stars on every level of Angry Birds, Facebooking, doing some Fantasy Football research, or just streaming a movie, our devices are lit while the bedroom is dark.

According to research from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s (RPI) Lighting Research Center (LRC), our electronic backlit devices can seriously affect our sleep cycles.

“Our study shows that a two-hour exposure to light from self-luminous electronic displays can suppress melatonin by about 22 percent. Stimulating the human circadian system to this level may affect sleep in those using the devices prior to bedtime,” said Mariana Figueiro, associate professor at RPI and director of the LRC’s Light and Health program. Melatonin is a hormone affected by darkness that lets the body know that it’s time to conk out for the night; too much light can cause a decrease in melatonin.

RPI sleep study goggles

“So what”, you’re thinking, “What’s the worse that could happen?” Apparently, lots of terrible things. According to the study:

Suppression of melatonin by light at night resulting in circadian disruption has been implicated in sleep disturbances, increased risk for diabetes and obesity, as well as increased risk for more serious diseases, such as breast cancer, if circadian disruption occurs for many consecutive years, such as in nightshift workers.

The study used three groups of subjects. One group looked at devices with blue LED-lit goggles, which is known to reduce melatonin production; another group was outfitted with orange goggles that filtered out the melatonin-killing light; and the third group wore no goggles at all.

The folks at LRC hope that this research can both inspire and guide display manufacturers in developing more circadian-friendly products.

One small thing that can help, according to the researchers, is to dim the brightness on your device at night, which will help reduce the amount of shortwave light that hits your brain.