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Get off the Grid – How electronics in the bedroom are keeping you up at night.

Let’s face it – we love our gizmos and gadgets.  Modern society is inundated with high-resolution electronic screens everywhere – TV, PCs at work and home, smartphones, and new tablet devices like the Apple iPad that can be easily transported just about anywhere.  The upside: unlimited access to the internet, emails, and multimedia content which means the world is literally at our fingertips.  The downside: many people find it difficult to disconnect, even when the day is over. More and more people have, and use, electronic devices in their bedrooms, which is preventing them from getting the rest they need.

Couple with Electronics

A 2011 Sleep in America® poll done by the National Sleep Foundation found that an alarming six in ten Americans use their personal computer within an hour of going to sleep, and four in ten Americans bring their cell phone into the bedroom.  A staggering number of people – 87% in the same study – report problems falling asleep at night, and these devices are likely a contributing factor.

Tired from Poor Quality of SleepThe problem is more severe than the proverbial glass of warm milk before bedtime can fix, these electronic devices with large, glaring screens directly influence the body’s circadian rhythm - the intrinsic 24 hour clock you naturally function on.  Circadian rhythms have direct effects on your sleep-wake cycle, hormone release, body temperature, and other functions pertaining to sleep.  Your circadian rhythm winds you down when you are tired, wakes you up when day breaks, and perhaps even begs for a nap now and then.  The circadian rhythm is highly influenced by light, and is particularly affected by the blue light emitted from electronics, according to a fact sheet by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Here’s how it works: Your circadian rhythm is controlled by your ‘master clock,’ the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN), located near the optic nerves.  These nerves transmit information from the eyes to the brain, so your master clock is extraordinarily sensitive to changes in light.  When it is dark out and your usual bedtime rolls around, the SCN tells your body to increase production of melatonin, the sleep chemical that is then released into the bloodstream. The blue light from electronic devices confuses your system by making it falsely believe it is daylight, halting the production of melatonin, and causing a night of tossing and turning for hours.  The bottom line?  The National Sleep Foundation recommends you keep electronics out of the bedroom, and sleep quality will likely improve. 

Watching TV

Here are five tips for a good night’s rest, adapted from health journalist Laurie Tarkan, without electronic interruption to your sleep-wake cycle:

1) Look away from the light –

Turn off all electronic screens with blue light - TV, laptop, and tablet included - about one hour before you plan to fall asleep.

2) Quiet, Please –

Power off your cell phone at night or put it on airplane mode.  Push updates and email alerts can not only wake you up at night, but stressful thoughts from bad headlines or thoughts about work prevent you from falling asleep.

3) Go Old School –

Reading, with the addition of relaxing music, can get you to nod off into dreamland faster by putting your mind and body in a state of relaxation.

4) Take a Memo –

Keep a journal close to your bed, so you mind isn’t wandering with “to do” thoughts pertaining to household errands or work.  If the next million-dollar idea pops into your head, write it down so you won’t have to worry about retaining it.

5) Kill the Lights – 

With all electronic screens off, curtains fully closed, and hallway lights off, your mind recognizes that it is time for your system to produce melatonin and send your body into sleep mode.

The benefits of a good night of sleep are proven: higher metabolism, improved mood, better work performance, and little/no dependence of caffeine throughout the day, according to Harvard Medical School’s research.  We just have to remember that technological progress doesn’t have to interfere or compete with a good night’s sleep.

Stay tuned to the PrimaLoft® blog for more sleep tips throughout the month of May in observance of Better Sleep Month.

//Nick Martin



CBS Interactive Business Network

Harvard Medical School

National Institute of General Medical Sciences

National Sleep Foundation

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