The opportunity of thoughtless entertainment is enticing, especially after a long day’s work. The room is full of easy laughs and tired eyes all pointed towards the television after a tiresome day. “Screen time” is a simple way to wind down late into the night and just relax, letting all our worries flutter away.
Screen time is considered to be any amount of time we spend on technological devices such as TV’s, phones, computers, etc. Just before bed, we’ll scan through our various feeds of Facebook or Twitter, lock our phones and go to sleep. The easily accessible entertainment leaves us feeling satisfied and ready for bed after having checked in with the world.
But have we noticed that the next day we are extremely tired? We blame our lack of sleep to our stressful day or our lack of sleep the previous night, saying we’ll get more hours of sleep tomorrow.
Perhaps, though, our so-called “screen time” is affecting our ability to sleep well through the night. The longer we spend on our various technologies, the less we sleep at night.
Zarin Rahman in the Washington Post wrote about a study where she collected information from middle and high school students to determine if the amount of screen time affects sleep time. “The results were striking, and I hadn’t expected the correlation to be so obvious or strong,” she wrote.
Through many surveys and questionnaires she found that students with less sleep time had longer hours of screen time before bed, while those with more sleep (about eight hours worth) had less screen exposure.
She extended her study with more depth, focusing on whether those with more screen time had shorter attention spans and larger mood swings. She found this to be true; the students lost focus as the school day dragged on and had diminished cognitive abilities. They had difficulty concentrating in later classes and were also found to have larger mood swings.
How could the amount of screen time have such a large effect? When the sun sets and the moon rises, our brains recognize this and begin to pump out melatonin (which induces sleep). However, when we reach down for our laptops or phones or remotes for the television, we immediately impair our ability of creating melatonin.
The bright screens, contrasted with the dark night, tricks our brains into thinking it’s day time. Our melatonin level drops, and we quickly begin to perk up. Once the clock strikes bedtime we decide it’s time for sleep regardless of our melatonin levels. The rest of the night we fight for sleep, ignoring our subconscious calls to wake up! It’s light outside! When in reality, it’s dark as night.
Once we actually fall to sleep from the influx of melatonin, our alarm goes off and it’s time to start the day.
According to Health Day, these sleepless nights can lead to sleep deficits which can impair children’s cognitive abilities the next coming day, and even for the rest of the week.
A lack of sleep can also impede physical growth. When we sleep, our bodies clean up any mess we made during the day and replenish our body with the nutrients it needs. Without that deep Stage 4/REM cycle of sleep, our bodies have a difficult time completing these needed processes.
O’Connor also wrote that, “researchers say melatonin suppression may not only cause sleep disturbances, but also raise the risk of obesity, diabetes and other disorders.” Experts recommend limiting computer use before bed. If that’s not possible, dim the screen down as much as possible.