Bedtime not screentime

I’m sure we’ve all heard about not looking at screens before bed (whether or not we listen to that advice is another matter), but do you know why it’s not such a great idea?  Well, read on, and I’ll ‘enlighten’ you!

If you’ve read any of my other blogs, you’re probably already aware that our body runs to it’s own body clock (our circadian rhythm) which is about 24 hours in length (sometimes a little longer and sometimes a little shorter, depending on the individual).  

One of the main things that helps keep our circadian rhythm in check is our exposure to light, which evolutionarily would have been natural daylight (before the invention of light bulbs etc).  To give you an example, a lit living room at home with the curtains closed is about 50 lux (lux being one of the measurements for light pressure), an average office is 500 lux whereas being outside in the daylight even on a cloudy day is more like 1,000 lux! 

During our exposure to light, particularly during the day, our brain produces melatonin which is our sleepy hormone.  The more exposure to light we have, the more melatonin we produce (this is why some individuals who are blind can have real difficulty maintaining a constant circadian rhythm, because they don’t have the input from daylight).  When our exposure to light stops (which previously would have been when the sun went down), that’s the brain’s cue to start secreting it, telling our body it’s time to sleep.  It’s probably no surprise that it’s the blue light in particular in daylight and fluorescent lighting that really ramps up our melatonin production (with daylight having more of a blue hue in the morning than later in the day).

The newer types of light bulbs also give off more blue light than their older incandescent counterparts too.  And, you’ve guessed, so too do screens of any kind (computers, TV’s and phones included).  So the sleep hack here is to try to limit your screen time and the brightness of the room you’re in for a couple of hours before bed to help your melatonin stay on track (dim lamps and candles are a great choice!).  Lights with more of a red hue are shown to not interfere as much with our sleepy hormone, so it’s worth bearing that in mind too.

Easier said than done, I know!  These days, watching a screen of some description is often our preferred way to unwind after a hard day.  If you wear glasses, many glasses come with a coating to help limit the blue light from screens, or you can buy specific glasses just for blocking the blue light (a quick internet search should bring up a few options of various prices).  But why not embrace some screen free time? Maybe it’s a chance to finally finish reading that book you’ve been meaning to get to the end of for months?  Or take up some other kind of hobby that doesn’t involve a screen?  (Personally, I’m putting some adult lego on my Christmas list this year!).

I also have a personal theory (which isn’t evidence based, just anecdotal!), that it’s not just the fact we’re looking at a screen, but what we’re looking at too.  If you’re sat in bed scrolling through Facebook and looking at posts from friends who are obviously having a whale of a time on some far flung holiday while you’re stuck in a damp and dark UK, you’re not exactly going to be going to bed on a high!  Equally, if you’re using the time before bed to catch up on some work on your laptop before getting some sleep, your brain may not turn off quite as easily as your computer!

Of course, this is all as relevant for children as it is for adults.  It’s always worth thinking about what kids are watching on TV or tablets at any time, but especially before bed – something that seems pretty innocuous to us adults could actually be pretty scary for little ones and could cause nightmares.

Something that wouldn’t relate to children though is if you’re looking at a screen in bed while laid next to your partner.  It probably sounds obvious, but the time you’re spending on your phone could be spent with them instead! I’m not just talking about ‘physically’ being with them (*wink*), but maybe just talking – there’s definitely something in a bedtime debrief to get things off your chest about your day before you turn out the light! There’s even evidence to suggest that you’ll sleep more soundly if you’re laid next to someone you care about because your body is more likely to produce oxytocin (our love hormone) which can also help us sleep. (More on sleep and relationships in another blog soon!).

So go on, why not have a go at not looking at a screen too close to bed – I’d love to know how you get on!  You can either post in the comments below, or tag me in a post on social media!

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