A new study in the U.K. has determined the worst thing people can do before bed is look at their smartphones, tablets or laptops; these devices are all ruining sleep patterns and leaving people tired in the morning. Six out of ten Brits reported they were sleeping less than just a year ago, and research says keeping devices like smartphones next to the bed is the main cause. Leaving them in another room, among a few other simple tips, can help people get their sleep habits back on track.
Seven and a half to eight and a half hours of sleep has been determined to be the minimum amount of sleep the average person should receive in a night. Anything less than seven can not only leave people tired and less alert in the morning, but can be associated with a number of health risks, including increased obesity, depression, heart disease, and diabetes. Many other habits and factors contribute to these conditions as well, but a strong correlation has been determined.
A study of over 1,100 people conducted by psychologist Richard Wiseman, of the University of Hertfordshire, discovered almost 60 percent of those surveyed slept less than seven hours a night. A similar poll taken last year showed only 39 percent of people reported sleeping less than seven hours. And of those surveyed, almost 80 percent said they used their devices within two hours of sleep, an increase of 20 percent over last year.
The problem with the smartphones, tablets, and laptops is the blue light they emit. Blue light is the same as we get from the sun, and the body is programmed to respond to the light to wake up and stay awake. “The blue light from these devices suppress the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin,” said Professor Wiseman, “and so it’s important to avoid them before bedtime.”
Professor Wisemann’s study says changing bad habits before bedtime, and making new ones, is the key to stop ruining our sleep schedules and waking up tired. He, and other sleep researchers, suggest leaving smartphones and computers in another room. But there are a number of other ways troubled sleepers can get their schedule back on track.
Keeping devices out of the bedroom is important, but so is not looking at them for at least two hours before trying to sleep. Reading books or magazines instead is a good way to focus attention elsewhere. Eating a banana has been found to help relax both the body and brain, and while alcohol can aid falling asleep, the sleep itself will be less restful.
There are other specific ways to relax the brain, like writing out lists of things to do the next day, keeping the brain from obsessing over them to much. Another is to concentrate on something monotonous the “counting sheep” method or playing soft music or sounds each night to build an association between the sounds and falling asleep.
As the sleep study says, almost 80 percent of people likely are ruining their sleep schedules by using their smartphone or similar devices before going to bed. Breaking that habit, and adopting others necessary to get back on a healthy sleeping track, might be the biggest barrier for most people to get a good night’s sleep. Since smartphones have become so integrated into people’s lives, that could be a very hard habit to break.
Commentary by Andrew Elfenbein
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyelf
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