Effects of bright screens on sleep patterns

It is way past midnight and you already perturbed your spouse twice with your incessantly buzzing mobile.  So when your spouse asks you to put off your mobile phones, please do it for your kind sake, if not for anybody else. It helps not just people around you, but also ensures you aren’t one among the millions the world over who are affected by the bright screen of a mobile, laptop or tablet device. The effect can be of slow-poison nature. One, it can break the vital link between you and family members or friends. Imagine everyone at home starting at his or her mobile in the odd hours of the night. These devices can effectively isolate us from real-time interaction with the environment around us. Two, the impact of staring at bright screens can have detrimental effects which this article will strive to explain, if not in super-detail.

Definition of bright screens

The blue light emitted by the screen is of a wavelength of ~ 470 nm and this affects the regular sleep pattern. These days, an increasing number of office-goers report of sleeping problems.  Mind you it isn’t just the case of ‘play while you play, sleep while you sleep’. But it’s also about how much time you spend on your mobile especially at night just before you hit the pillow. The result: you no longer feel fresh in the morning when you wake up to dozens of message beeps and email alerts, already adding to poor or inconsistent sleep. And there are some who experience disturbed, shallow sleeping and are awake frequently at night. With people getting less sleep at night due to irregular sleeping hours, they can make up for the lack of sleep by taking short daytime naps, if they can.

Effects of poor or disturbed sleep

The effects of poor or disturbed sleep can be far too many than one can imagine: lack of concentration at work, diminished focus to carry out everyday tasks, low mood, lack of motivation and general tiredness. Worse, it may also lead to acute stress and anxiety levels at the workplace, resulting in depression and anxiety. The impact that it can have on our health can be either short-term or long-term, and is well-documented including vision and cardiovascular problems. Sleeping pattern disturbances have also lead to excessive body weight.  A recent research study shows that almost half of the people in the US suffer from chronic stress at varying levels ranging from moderate to severe. Disturbingly, this trend is increasing at an unprecedented rate in recent years.

Regulation of circadian rhythm

Scientific researches over the years have proved that our sleep-wake pattern or circadian rhythm is regulated by how much we are exposed to light. There are different components of this system that are of essence. First, there are specific cells in our eye retina that detect the intensity and duration of light. These cells, also known as intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs), in particular, are sensitive to blue light of short wavelength.

Light-exposed ipRGC cells transfer signals to the brain’s suprachiasmatic nucleus. This region plays the role of setting up the body clock, facilitated by the regulation of the production of melatonin, a hormone in the pineal gland. Melatonin is responsible for adjusting mechanism, i.e. it synchronizes the circadian rhythms of the body with the real-time cycle of day and night undergone by the body. The issue is it is so easy for the system to be fooled by long exposure to artificial light. When you are starting at your laptop or Smartphone screen later in the evening, the brain receives a signal that you are currently experiencing at different times of a day. Your body will accordingly adjust to take stock of daytime hours it will override the urge to sleep. And when you switch off the screen, you no longer feel like sleeping. 

Positives of blue-light emitting bright screens

Recent research studies indicate that staring at the bright screen of your mobile for over two hours can reduce the sleep duration, and ultimately the sleep quality. If your work involves staring at your computer screen past midnight, you’ll be more likely to stay awake than those who don’t use computer systems in the late evening. The data also throws light that both the type of light, as well as its intensity, accounts for the quality of night-time sleep. The screens emitting low brightness were found to be less irritating for the eyes, and those emitting red light seemed not to affect night-time sleep at all.

On the contrary, when you’re exposed to blue-light emitting bright screens during the day time, it actually helps the body to readjust according to the right time of the day. As a matter of fact, when an individual is exposed to blue light, it can help regulate the circadian cycle, and this technique is widely employed in a number of bright light therapies, especially in senior citizens, who often undergo sleep-wake pattern disturbances.  So, the next time around don’t just blame your bed mattress for deprived sleep, rather cut the mobile time first.

[Also read: 9 Social and health hazards of excessive smartphones & tablets use]

Effects of bright screens on sleep patterns 3
Shameer S
Shameer. S is a seasoned content writer in the areas of lifestyle and health, and a vivacious vocalist and voracious reader when he is in his elements.

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