There is a growing body of knowledge on the effects of smartphones and tablets to sleep. How do gadgets interrupt sleep?
Smartphones, tablets, computers and other gadgets emit what experts call blue light. This light interrupts the function of melatonin, the natural sleep hormone of the body.
Gadgets emit blue light so the screen can be seen even at the sunniest time of the day. At night, when the surroundings are dark, the brain misinterprets blue light as the sun and diminishes its production of melatonin.
"Blue light plays havoc with your sleep by disrupting your circadian rhythms," Anne-Marie Chang, a neuroscientist and sleep expert at Pennsylvania State University, said.
When the circadian rhythm is altered, it may lead to a wide array of serious illnesses. Chang added that the disruption of the biological clock may lead to chronic illnesses such as increased cancer risk, cardiovascular disease and even diabetes.
In the long run, lack of sleep may alter one's memory, performance and emotions. It may lead to the build-up of neurotoxin that makes it harder for people to fall asleep. Individuals whose melatonin levels are decreased and circadian rhythms are altered may develop depression.
Lack of sleep plays a major role in increased risk of obesity. Blue light also disrupts the hormones that control hunger, making people prone to overeating. Since the eyes are directly exposed to blue light, it may increase the risk to retinal problems and the formation of cataracts.
In a study published in Frontiers in Public Health, the researchers set out to determine the extent of blue light emissions of certain gadgets. They found that the devices tested were all bright and characterized by short wavelength-enriched emissions.
These emissions cause disruption of sleep as they supress the production of melatonin and boost alertness.
"Ideally future software design could be better optimized when night-time use is anticipated, and hardware should allow an automatic 'bedtime mode' that shifts blue and green light emissions to yellow and red as well as reduce backlight/light intensity," the researchers added.
Apple's upcoming iOS update promises to give you a good night's sleep. It has a feature called Night Shift, which could help people sleep better. The new version of Apple's iOS 9.3 has many health-related apps but it's Night Shift that aims to automatically change the phone's display color to a warmer and redder shade until the next morning.
Photo: Pabak Sarkar | Flickr