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Tiny Screens and Sleep Problems? Daytime Light Maybe The Answer

Tiny Screens and Sleep Problems? Daytime Light Maybe The Answer

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  • Screen based devices cause sleep disturbances
  • Varied results among researches on the effect of tiny screens on sleep
  • Present research concludes sleep pattern not altered by pre-sleep screen exposure
  • Daytime lighting maybe a solution to bright screen associated sleep disturbances

Using a laptop, computers, mobiles or other screen-based technologies just before going to bed could affect your sleep pattern and make you feel less rested. Several epidemiological studies have proved that screen based device exposure before going to sleep causes sleep problems. These studies were done based on the effect of short wavelength enriched screens and ambient lighting on pineal gland and melatonin secretion.

Melatonin is a hormone involved in the daily sleep-wake cycle secreted by the pineal gland (generally at night). LED screens affect melatonin secretion and thereby prolongs sleep onset, slow wave sleep and decrease time on rapid eye movement sleep.


Short Wavelength Enriched Screen Exposure - Is It Really Deleterious?

12 individuals were subjected to evening use of tablet computers for 5 consecutive days which showed that there is a late shift in pre-sleep melatonin increase, increased sleep onset latency, decreased time in REM sleep and increased tiredness and sleepiness in the morning.

However, contradictory results are seen in other similar studies. For example a comparative study done between people using short wavelength enriched screen containing tablet and tablets with short wavelength filter concluded that there was no significant difference in the sleep pattern.

In another similar study on reading with iPad before sleep gave a comparable result, it also showed that sleepiness before turning off the lights and early night slow-wave activity is reduced. This made the path for further research to check on the age old fact about short wavelength enriched screens.

The present experimental research was conducted in Uppsala Biomedical centre, Sweden and was published in Sleep Medicine journal. 14-right handed adults with normal eye sight, with no prior medical or psychiatry illnesses, who have the habit of sleeping between 21.00 and 23.00 and waking up between 06.00 and 10.00 with a good 7-9hrs sleep were enrolled in the study.

Prior to reading they were exposed to 6.5hrs of normal room light conditions following which polysomnography was attached to them at 20.00 and reading exercise was started at 21.15 under a reading lamp. Saliva melatonin measurements were taken serially from 21.00 hrs, every half hour for 2hrs lights were switched off at 23.15 for sleep. Participants sleepiness were rated using Karolinska Sleepiness Scale (KSS). Melatonin levels were measured using commercially available immunoassay.

During sleep, electroencephalogram and electrooculogram were used to monitor the sleep pattern and measure the sleep onset latency, total sleep time, latency of slow-wave sleep and time in each stage for sleep. Two participants could not be included in the analysis of sleep due to technical issues.

LED Screen Usage Before Sleep Does Not Affect Nocturnal Sleep

The results of this study were little contrary to what was traditionally thought of about LED screen usage before sleep. There was no difference in the baseline melatonin levels and the circadian rhythm of melatonin secretion (melatonin secretion and sleep increases as the evening progresses) between the two reading techniques.

Regarding personal experience all the individuals gave similar feedback of book reading and e-book reading on a tablet. The evening tablet use did not affect the sleep onset, sleep duration, or time spent in the different sleep stages and also time of slow wave sleep latency, in contrast to the earlier studies.

"One plausible explanation for these discrepant results across experiments, in our view, is that bright light exposure during daytime similar to that employed in the present study has previously been shown to attenuate the suppressive properties of evening light exposure on melatonin levels," said lead study author Frida Rangtell, a neuroscience researcher at Uppsala University in Sweden.

The subjective ratings of sleep by each individual on the basis of time taken to fall asleep, sleep quality and morning sleepiness did not differ between the two reading conditions i.e. evening tablet reading did not affect the quality of sleep.

The main difference between the present study and the previous study was the duration and timing of evening light stimulus with screen based devices. This could make a difference in the melatonin levels and quality of sleep in both the studies as the extent of blue light exposure plays a major role in this physiology.

Some limitations in the study were the small sample size, the used bright light conditions are different from the normal indoor light, short duration of exposure to screen based devices and the fact that the previous light exposure was not taken into consideration.

"As most of us know, reading on tablets, checking emails on phones, or watching late night TV are a chronic issue, and unfortunately become part of our pre-sleep habits," said Karatsoreos, a neuroscience researcher in Washington state university( not part of the research team). This study seems to evaluate only short term single exposure to bright light, further research is needed to study the effect of this common ritual of regular continuous exposure.

5 Healthy Sleep Habits

1. Stick To A Schedule - The same bedtimes and wake times should be maintained every day, even on weekends.This helps you to fall asleep and stay asleep the whole night.

2. Avoid Day Naps - Power napping can help you through a hard day. However, naps that go beyond 30 mins, can disturb your night time sleep and may leave you sleep deprived the following day.

3. Exercise - A vigorous exercise routine is best for a restful and peaceful sleep.

4. Wake Up To Sunlight - Dim bright lights during the evenings and expose yourself to bright sunlight in the morning. This helps keep you refreshed and also regulates your circadian rhythms.

5. Gadgets - Turn off your computer and smartphones at least 1 hour before going to bed for a good night's sleep.

Source: Medindia

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