By: Chris O'Shea
Everyone does it. You're about to go to bed, but you need just one more peek. You need to look at your phone, your computer, your Kindle — whatever — just one more time before heading off to dream world. We know we shouldn't do it. We've read all the studies about how computer screens keep us awake. In the latest report, researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute showed in a few different ways that the light from tablets "significantly" lowered melatonin levels, that hormone we all need to sleep. But we don't care, do we? We keep on reading, checking email, etc. Well how about this: A new study says looking at those screens could be killing us.
Charles Czeisler, the director of sleep medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, is the author of the report. He says that looking at screens messes with our sleep cycle so much that it shakes up our internal clock. That's not a good thing. In fact, a separate study recently showed that people who have their internal clocks disrupted are more prone to develop severe depression. Czeisler says that this lack of sleep causes and is the cause of way more problems than that.
The obesity boom has triggered a parallel epidemic of obstructive sleep apnoea, which disrupts sleep," writes Czeisler, in Nature. "Children become hyperactive rather than sleepy when they don't get enough sleep, and have difficulty focusing attention, so sleep deficiency may be mistaken for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), an increasingly common condition now diagnosed in 19 percent of U.S. boys of high-school age. Some 40 percent of people in the United States report that their sleep is often insufficient, with 25% reporting difficulty concentrating owing to fatigue. The World Health Organization has even added night-shift work to its list of known and probable carcinogens. And the death toll from driving while tired is second only to that caused by drink driving."
Czeisler says that the only answer for all these light-related problems is to reverse our body's clock with more light. You won't be surprised to learn that Czeisler holds the patent for that sort of therapy. Not that we're doubting him, because there are others who agree with him. The author of the depression study for one, and Derk-Jan Dijk, the director of the Surrey Sleep Research Centre, in England. He told The Guardian, "The main issue now is awareness. Light has an activating effect, but people don't treat light as they would caffeine. If you have problems falling asleep that might be associated with this, keep your exposure to light low in the evening."
We hear Czeisler and Dijik. Like we said, we know we shouldn't be checking Twitter before going to bed. But what if we miss a funny retweet? Or what if we miss someone liking our Facebook update? Oh, and we simply must finish reading that book we just downloaded. They'll all be gone in the morning! Won't they?
[Pic via Flickr - Rob Ireton]