Shedding Light on Tablets and eReaders at Bedtime

Does the use of eReaders and other electronic devices at bedtime interfere with sleep?

How many of us use eReaders, smart-phones, or other electronic devices before bed? I am certainly guilty of using my laptop right up and into bedtime. I’ve had people ask if using eReaders are a better choice than TV or laptop screens at night. While I didn’t think so, I wanted a more solid answer. The radio program, Science Friday, did a nice piece about this topic on January 16, 2015.

How does this affect our sleep and therefore our health? Exposure to the light emitted from screens makes it take longer to fall asleep, delays or decreases the release of melatonin, and reduces the amount of the REM phase of sleep. How does that translate into real life? The main point is that you are not getting good enough sleep and this contributes to feeling tired. Just as drinking a couple of cups of coffee or caffeinated soda before bed can keep most people from falling asleep, so can looking at a glowing screen, by an hour and a half. Downstream, poor quality sleep contributes to heart disease, difficulty managing weight, increasing the risk for certain types of cancers, productivity at work and home, stress management, compromises the ability to drive safely, and ability to be a patient, pleasant person to be around.

Our culture does not value sleep, however, it is fundamental for our health and well-being. Sleep is when our body releases hormones that help us repair from the wear and tear of daily life. This is when our skin repairs itself. If you want beautiful skin, make sleep a priority. It’s far less expensive than fancy creams and has many other benefits. Our immune system works hard when we’re sleeping which is why it is an important part of fighting off germs and reducing cancer risks. I consider sleep one of three foundations, along with food and movement, of great health.

Take a listen to the 12-minute podcast. What do you find most challenging about getting a good night of rest? What have you changed in your routine so you can sleep better?

Science Friday Podcast – listen here

"Tablets and smart-phones are starting to replace books and alarm clocks on the night stand. Sleep researcher Charles Czeisler, an author of a new sleep study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes how using this technology before bedtime can shift your circadian rhythms, and gives tips for adjusting your electronic devices to improve your sleep."

A few signs your sleep routine might need a little help:

  • Need an alarm to wake every morning
  • You dread the alarm going off and hit snooze more than once
  • Need coffee or other caffeinated beverages to be a functional, friendly human being
  • Chronic dark circles under the eyes
  • Need a sleeping aide to fall asleep more than once a month
  • Frequent colds or infections
  • Difficulty managing weight
  • Frequent cravings for carbohydrates and sweets
  • Generally feeling blah or lethargic which is not due to an underlying medical condition
  • You have young children and can’t remember the last time you were able to sleep through the night – have faith that some day you will sleep again!

A few basics of sleep hygiene:

  • Lower or eliminate overhead or bright (task) lighting in the evening to send signal to your brain that its time to wind down for the night
  • Routine at bedtime, including going to bed at the same time every night
  • Wake at the same time daily
  • Realize that you can’t make up for a work week of poor sleep on the weekends, or vice versa
  • Keep the bedroom a few degrees cooler
  • No TV or other screens in the bedroom and put electronics away an hour before bed
  • Eliminate as best you can any light sources in the bedroom (alarm clocks, outside lights)
  • Develop health promoting stress management strategies
  • Avoid alcohol 3 hours before bedtime
  • Exercise regularly, ideally 150 minutes a week
  • Avoid large meals close to bedtime, a small snack with protein before bed can help regulate blood sugar though (a few nuts, slice of turkey, Greek yogurt, etc.)
  • Make the easiest changes first and work up to the most challenging ones

Yes, it can be difficult to overhaul your evening routine and break life long habits. If you want better energy, better health, glowing skin, and hopefully a longer life, work on getting a better night of rest. I know you can do it!


Dr. Thiel