Let’s face it –electronics are a part of life in the 21 st century. Pros and cons to our increasing connectivity certainly exist; we are able to stay engaged with the world from the privacy of our own homes late into the evening. However, in doing so we are exposed to the light that our devices emit; and both mental activity and light exposure promote wakefulness.
Living in our 24/7 society, there is a loss of the evening reduction in light that has traditionally cued our brains to “wind down” for sleep.
Experts Helene Emsellem, MD and Taylor Bos, BA, give us a review of what the latest literature says around electronics and the impact on sleep, highlighting how the use of electronic devices in the bedroom further disrupts the natural pattern of the sleep-wake cycle.
There is robust scientific data documenting the role of light in promoting wakefulness. Photoreceptors in the retina sense light and dark, signaling our brain about the status of the outside world and aligning our circadian rhythms (centered in a small region of the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus) to the external day-night cycle. This signaling of light and dark helps us to be alert in the morning and be able to fall asleep at the appropriate time at night. The power of light as an alerting agent is easily conceptualized when we think of the sun, but may be more difficult to appreciate when considering the light emitted from a tablet or smartphone.
Nonetheless, careful studies have shown that even our small electronic devices emit sufficient light to miscue the brain and promote wakefulness. As adults we are subject to these influences and our children are particularly susceptible.
The increasing prevalence of electronics in children’s bedrooms creates a culture of evening engagement and light exposure that negatively impacts sleep time, sleep quality and daytime alertness. Literature shows that: