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Is your smartphone keeping you awake at night?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013 by: Kshamica Nimalasuriya MD, MPH
Tags: smartphones, insomnia, healthy sleep

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(NaturalNews) If you have trouble falling asleep - or staying asleep - you can stop attributing it to stress, caffeine or a Type A personality. Your smart phone may be the culprit, by robbing you of your natural sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin.

We've always known that exposure to a light source is bad for sleep. Cavemen knew it, babies know it and even plants need the lights turned off periodically.

But shining a bright LCD light directly into your eyes with a cellphone, laptop or tablet just before bedtime sends your brain the "wakey, wakey" message.

The benefits of sleep are overwhelming and underrated. Regular, restful sleep is known to reduce stress, strengthen your immune system and sharpen your memory, among many other healthy benefits. In fact, a three-pronged regimen of a wholesome diet, regular exercise and high-quality sleep is the most direct route to a healthy mind and body, and sound sleep is the most important component of all.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), sleep deprivation can wipe out almost all the benefits of a healthy diet and a regular exercise regimen. You may be surprised to learn that sleep deprivation occurs anytime you get less than seven hours of sleep in a 24-hour period.

Inadequate or fitful sleep is associated with increased risk for physical ailments, such as heart disease and diabetes, as well as car crashes and workplace accidents. It leads to learning and memory problems and to depression.

In a 2011 survey by the National Sleep Foundation, more than two-thirds of Americans said they experienced sleep problems or disruptions almost every night, including waking in the wee hours and feeling sluggish in the morning. The average night's sleep for these subjects was a minimal six hours and 55 minutes. Not surprisingly, the same study found that 95% of the respondents used an electronic device like a smart phone, laptop or video game console in the hour before hitting the sack.

Any artificial light exposure between sundown and bedtime can affect one's circadian clock, and many people pinpoint the origin of the problem to a singular event, the invention of the light bulb, which ushered in the modern age of sleep deprivation. But the light emitted by old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs, like fire itself, consists of mostly yellow light, which has a very mild effect on melatonin production.

The light emitted by electronic devices like tablet screens is "blue" light measured at 400-480 nanometers, the type that suppresses melatonin and keeps you alert and awake; the higher the level of blue light exposure before bedtime, the longer it takes to fall asleep.

Then why have two generations of Americans adopted the habit of falling asleep to the sights and sounds of late night television?

For one thing, the melatonin-suppressing blue light emitted by a TV set is several feet away from you, whereas the light coming from your personal electronic device is - quite literally - in your face.

More importantly, television is a "passive" medium like radio; it can entertain and pacify you. Your smart phone or tablet is much more interactive and can keep you active for hours.

Given these recent findings, how can you get a decent night's rest without giving up your favorite gadgets?

You've already taken the first step by establishing the connection between blue light, melatonin and sleep quality. Try these tips to get your eight hours of sleep:

• Stop using your personal electronic devices at least an hour before you expect to fall asleep and keep them off your nightstand.
• Relax before bedtime with a hot bath or soothing music.
• Avoid alcohol and caffeine close to bedtime.
• Sleep in a dark, quiet and cool place.

Awareness of the importance of melatonin, and smart management of your electronic devices after dark, can make the difference between night and day.

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About the author:
Kshamica Nimalasuriya MD, MPH is a renowned Preventive Medicine Physician involved with merging Media with Health, Open-Source Education, Herbal Medicine, Fitness, Nutrition, Wellness, and Love. She works on many initiatives bridging the global digital divide of health care education.

She has developed her own line of organic skin care and herbal supplements at www.kshamicaMD.com

Follow her on Facebook at Kshamica MD
Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at KshamicaMD

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