You’ve got your Blackberry on your nightstand, the TV on your dresser and your e-reader on your lap. You may even have a Nintendo system set up in your bedroom to play games. Not a good scenario to get a good night’s sleep, according to the sleep experts. These electronic devices emit artificial light that can interfere with sleep. “There’s experimental evidence showing that the intensity of artificial light you get from, say an electronic reader or the screen of a computer held close to your face when sitting with a laptop on your lap is intense enough to reduce levels of melatonin,” says sleep specialist Dr. Benjamin Rusak, a Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain that helps to keep sleep and wake patterns on about a 24-hour cycle. Levels of melatonin normally begin to rise in the mid- to late evening, remain high for most of the night, and then drop off in the early morning hours. “Light shuts down melatonin which is why melatonin rises at night” under the control of the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the brain, but as soon as you turn on the lights with bright enough intensity “your melatonin levels get knocked back down” says sleep specialist Dr. Benjamin Rusak. “So keeping a computer or an electronic reader in front of you, or even having the lights on, will delay your tendency to fall asleep.”
The electronic gadgets also pose a major mental distraction, preventing you from getting down to the serious, and essential, business of falling sleep. Constantly checking incoming emails at night is stressful, says Dr. Colleen Carney, associate professor, Department of Psychology, Ryerson University, Toronto. “You maintain that work mentality even when you’re supposed to be unwinding.” She recommends creating a “buffer” time of about an hour before bed during which you should try to disengage from your work-mode or problem-solving mode. “It’s about being in the moment and unwinding,” she says. Keeping an electronics-free zone in the bedroom is especially important for children, says sleep specialist Rusek.
Kids need sleep for proper growth and development, and they may be particularly prone to the interruptions such gadgets can present. Our 24-hour global lifestyle doesn’t help, says sleep specialist Rusak. Now that it’s technically possible to do it, it’s tempting to get up in the middle of the night to place a deal on the Tokyo stock market or to get on the web or to text your friends or start playing a video game with someone in Kazakhstan or China, he says.
People are also getting the sometimes not so unsubtle message that sleep doesn’t really matter anymore. As an example, Dr. Rusak refers to an advertisement for an energy drink that he noticed at a nearby corner store. The ad, he says, inferred that nobody ever regretted not getting sleep in college and that sleep should be the last thing on your mind. “The suggestion is that there’s lots of fun to be had, interesting things to do, and if pursuing this happens at the cost of sleep, no problem.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Getting enough sleep is crucial for your physical and mental well-being. Dr. Maureen Ceresney, a sleep specialist at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, agrees wholeheartedly. “TV, computers, cell phones and even books are better kept out of the bedroom to help the brain recognize that the bed is a place to relax and sleep, rather than a place to focus and pay attention.” The bedroom, she adds, should be a place only for the three S’s – sleep, sex or sickness. “Sorry, but Surfing the Net doesn’t count as one of the S’s.”
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