With smartphones seemingly ubiquitous in the industrialized world, sleep researchers have confirmed what many already suspected – technology disrupts human sleep in ways we don’t yet fully understand.
Humans, along with plants, fungi, and animals, possess the so-called circadian rhythm, the internal clock that regulates our sleep-wake cycle.
As far as scientists can understand, most of this rhythm is maintained by the hypothalamus, which releases the sleep hormone melatonin and responds strongly to changes in ambient light, especially around dawn and dusk.
However, artificial light can affect the dynamics of the hypothalamus, and increased exposure to blue light from electronic devices such as smartphones, laptops and some types of cleaning devices has a gradual impact on the almost 24-hour inherent sleep rhythm of modern humans.
“Light basically does two things with the clock. It adjusts the clock and changes the amplitude or power of the clock,”
An increasing number of studies show that artificial light can suppress melatonin production in humans, thereby disrupting the natural tendency to sleep at the end of the day, often prolonging the time needed to fall asleep.
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“There is evidence that 1.5 hours (or more) of using a bright screen reduces the natural increase in melatonin at night, and this effect can be complicated by several nights,” said Dr. Cele Richardson of the University of Western Australia.
Previous studies have found that sleep activity can affect the length of time it takes to fall asleep. A 2014 study compared e-books with printed book readers and found that the latter group had fallen asleep up to 10 minutes earlier.
A separate study examined the effects of products with blue light filters and found that consumers fell asleep up to four minutes earlier than non-consumers.
Another complicating factor, however, is that those who have trouble falling asleep are more likely to use technology to have fun while lying awake and struggling to fall asleep, in a kind of negative feedback that deprives them of even more sleep in general.
“There is a possible two-way link between the use of technology and sleep. This means that the use of technology can affect sleep over time, but people who have sleep problems may subsequently increase their use of technology,” Richardson added. .
The exact effect of artificial light on our still somewhat mysterious sleep cycle remains unknown, but the growing scientific consensus is that technology is having a negative impact on our collective ability to sleep well.
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