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How Technology Messes with Sleep and What You Can Do About It

Photo+Credit%3A+Creative+Commons+Licensed
Photo Credit: Creative Commons Licensed

Photo Credit: Creative Commons Licensed

Photo Credit: Creative Commons Licensed

Emma Lymn, Guest writer. Editor of Health Grinder

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Laptops, tablets, and cellphones are essentials for any college student. With the heavy workload and tight deadlines, you just can’t live without them. But, using them, especially late at night, may be the reason why you’re having problems sleeping

Make no mistake, technology offers incredible benefits for learning. In its 2016 Digital Study Trends Survey of over 3,300 respondents, the McGraw-Hill Education company found that 81% of college students said that digital technology helps them get better grades, be more effective and efficient. Moreover, nearly 70% of them agree that digital learning improves their ability to focus.

Unfortunately for most students, putting down their digital device can be hard. This seems especially true come bedtime. Research shows that about two-thirds of college students and post-grads use their electronic devices immediately prior to sleep. This puts them just behind teens between the ages of 13 and 18 as the worst offenders (72%).

The biggest problem with using electronic devices right before bedtime is the light emitted from their screens. This light, called blue light, refers to its color in the visible light spectrum. It is one of the shortest, highest-energy wavelengths. As a result, it tends to flicker more than longer, weaker wavelengths. This flickering is what causes digital eye strain, which is the discomfort you experience when staring at the TV or computer screen for long periods of time. Besides eye strain can also produce headaches and fatigue.

In addition to its physical and mental effects, blue light has also been proven to suppress the body’s production of melatonin. Melatonin is one of the hormones that help regulate our body’s circadian rhythm. As a result, it messes with your regular sleep-wake pattern. This is one reason why reading print books are better than digital e-readers especially late at night.

Another problem with using devices close to bedtime is that they keep your mind stimulated. This is true whether you’re studying or checking emails.

Both aren’t issues during the daytime. But, they can cause insomnia and other sleep problems when done right before going to bed. For this reason, health experts suggest putting down your electronic devices 2 to 3 hours before you plan on calling it a night. This limits your exposure to blue light and allows your mind to wind down and get ready for sleep. Doing so will help you sleep better through the night.

Finally, there’s the beeps and rings from notifications. Our phones notify us of every text message, email or alert from our apps. While these may not seem like much, they’re enough to keep you from falling asleep. Often, they can wake you up in the middle of the night, disrupting your slumber. Our penchant for checking our phones every time a notification alert comes up doesn’t help either as this makes our minds very aware of the beeping, ringing or vibrations the phone makes.

Some of the negative effects of sleep deprivation obvious. You feel tired the next day. You’re more irritable and moody. Plus, you have a higher risk of making mistakes and getting into accidents.

What many aren’t aware of is that research shows that lack of sleep is associated with poor academic performance. This is because in addition to its physical effects, sleep debt affects your brain’s ability to function. This includes poor memory, inability to focus and reduced creativity to name a few.

Not getting enough sleep has also been shown to weaken your immunity. Thus, making you more prone to getting sick. Additionally, it makes you more likely to gain weight.

For these reasons, taking preventive measures to avoid the negative effects of technology on sleep can help students get healthier and perform better in class.

By far the simplest way to do so is putting your digital device down. While difficult to do, shutting them off an hour before bedtime lets your body recover from the light’s exposure.

If you absolutely can’t do without your phone or laptop, then try reducing your screen’s brightness level. How much blue light disrupts your sleep depends on several factors. Among them are how long you look at the screen and how much exposure you’ve had in the last few hours. Therefore, quick glances on your phone doesn’t do as much harm as reading several chapters on your device.

Similarly, interactive activities like playing video games or doing homework on your device keeps your mind more engaged. This prevents it from winding down and getting ready for sleep. On the other hand, passive activities such as watching TV and scanning through social media feeds are far less engaging. That’s because they don’t require your mind to actively think about anything. Thus, making them better options before bedtime if you absolutely can’t stay away from your device.

Finally, to make sure that you aren’t disturbed or tempted to pick up your device late at night, turn notifications off. Keeping your phone in silent mode or turning notifications off prevents alerts from disturbing your sleep. If there are important messages you need to receive, using the “do not disturb” setting is a good way to go. This feature is available on iPhones and Android devices. It allows you to choose which notifications you’ll be able to receive through the night. In doing so, you’re able to respond to urgent alerts like emergencies and leave the rest to deal with in the morning.

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