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Exposure to Light at Night Has Significant Effect on Sleep, Health

Researchers say light from new technology may trick brain into thinking its morning

DAYTON, Ohio (February 17, 2014) – People struggling with insomnia or simply having a hard time falling asleep at night may find that the answer to their problem is sitting in the palm of their hand.

Recent research suggests that the blue light emitted from our favorite smart phones and tablets – even the new energy efficient light bulbs and big screen televisions – may actually trick the brain into thinking it’s morning time right before one falls asleep.

“People may be in bed reading and the last thing they do is pick up their phone and check their email,” said Chris Lauricella, DO, of Family medicine of Vandalia. “The light from a phone can actually signal to the part of the brain that governs our sleep and wake cycle that it is time to wake up. As a result, it takes longer for that person’s body to transition into sleep – we call this sleep latency.”

Light at night throws off the body’s biological clock- which is known as the circadian rhythm. Even a small dose of dim light produced by a reading lamp has enough power to suppress the secretion of melatonin – the hormone that helps one fall asleep. As a result, a person’s sleep can suffer and ultimately their health. A lack of sleep – less than the recommended seven and a half to nine hours of sleep – can lead to health problems including hypertension, obesity, diabetes, depression and heart disease, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

The impact light has on one’s sleep is important. So much so, that in 2012, the American Medical Association adopted a policy recognizing that exposure to light at night can disrupt sleep, exacerbate sleep disorders and cause unsafe driving conditions. Light of any kind can throw off one’s sleep patterns, but researchers at Harvard University found that blue light – found in most technology screens today – suppressed melatonin for twice as long as the green light found in traditional light bulbs or older television sets.

“I do a quick sleep history with my patients who come in and say they are having trouble sleeping or falling asleep,” Dr. Lauricella said. “And one of the things I tell people is that you have to turn off the television set or put away the phone.”

There are several things individuals can do to make sure they are helping their body to properly transition into sleep:

Night Lights – Use dim red lights for night lights. Red light has the least power to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin.

One Hour Out – The National Sleep Foundation suggests that individuals begin preparing for sleep one hour before they anticipate going to bed. Eliminate any screen time during this hour and begin turning down the lights around the house.

Blue Blockers – Those who work night shift or work with bright screens at night may want to consider wearing blue-blocking goggles.

Let In The Sun – Daily exposure to light and sun can boost one’s ability to sleep at night and enhance their mood and alertness during the day.

Dr. Lauricella also encourages individuals to look at all their daily habits and routines if they are struggling with sleep at night. This includes limiting caffeine – not just the number of caffeinated drinks but how much caffeine is in each drink. Caffeinated drinks should not be consumed later than early afternoon since it takes several hours for the stimulant to exit the body. On the flip side, individuals should be careful about using alcohol as a way to wind down from the day and prepare for sleep. While a glass of wine may help one relax and fall asleep it doesn’t necessarily promote the quality of sleep one’s body needs to heal from the day.

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