Idle speculation has given way to proper research and advice from informed experts: It’s now clear that watching screens at night hurts our natural sleep cycle. LED screens – the kind in our phones, tablets, and laptops – emit blue light that jumbles up our circadian rhythm. As a result, the body stops releasing melatonin. That calming hormone is absolutely essential for us to slow down and get ready, physically, to go to sleep. Staring into a blue-light LED screen late at night poses further challenges, too. The light also stimulates the release of cortisol, a stress hormone that keeps us awake. as
Neurologists have studied the effect of blue LED light carefully. Test subjects exposed to it before bedtime had more trouble falling asleep. Getting to sleep was much easier for subjects who were instead exposed to full-spectrum light or warmer light.
When we have trouble getting the sleep we need, the negative effects go a lot further than feeling bleary-eyed in the morning. A chronic sleep deficit can cause very serious health problems.
There is, of course, a simple answer: Don’t use screens before bed. Like most simple answers, this one is problematic. True, we could all manage our screen time better and prioritize the real world a little higher. But lots of us rely on screens both professionally and recreationally.
Fortunately, you have alternatives to declaring a complete bedtime embargo on screens that will help you fall asleep faster when you hit your Sleep Country mattress. Here’s a pair of software tools that can help you work or play a little later without spoiling your beauty rest:
This is a free app that works on desktops and laptops. It’s a lightweight tool that gradually changes your screen’s color temperature to keep the light coming out of it as natural and healthy as possible. In the middle of the day, f.lux lets your screen produce blue light that’s similar to sunshine. As the hour grows later, though, f.lux shifts your screen toward warmer tones.
When you install f.lux, it starts by asking for your location and the type of indoor lights you use. It uses this information to adjust its timing and color choices for optimum health. You also have the option of adjusting the color settings to your own specifications.
As discussed above, using warmer lighting at bedtime avoids the hormonal disturbance caused by blue light. The f.lux app allows you to enjoy your screens with the healthiest possible colors.
Personally, I consider f.lux an absolute lifesaver. Because I have kids to take care of, I have to do almost all of my work after dark. Not only is it easier for me to fall asleep after using my laptop, but the warmer colors have also eliminated the eye-strain headaches that late-night work used to give me.
The only problem for me is that f.lux won’t work on an Apple device (an iPhone or an iPad) unless you jailbreak it. But there’s another app to consider:
If you’ve started to do some or most of your leisure reading on electronic devices, Oyster should be your tool of choice for bedtime reading. I’m a big believer in e-books, but most readers put out way too much light for me. Oyster is different. It’s a subscription service that opens up a huge selection of e-books for one monthly fee. (I’ve heard it accurately described as “Netflix for books.”)
When it comes to healthy lighting, what really sets Oyster apart is its integral “Lumin” feature. This adjusts the tint and color output of your screen automatically depending on the time of day or night. Like f.lux, this feature is intended to pull the blue wavelengths out of your screen light as the time gets later. This reduces eye strain and makes it easier for you to fall asleep.
Unfortunately, iOS device users don’t yet have a free option to provide this handy functionality. Android users can load the Twilight app to make health-conscious color adjustments.
Taking The Plunge: No Screens Before Bed
Although software can reduce the amount of difficulty that your screens give you, they might not do the trick all on their own. It’s a good idea to give yourself at least a little screen-free time before you turn in. Make a habit of closing the laptop, plugging in the phone, and then occupying your time with healthier bedtime habits. Do a few stretches, meditate, or have a cup of (caffeine-free) tea. Even the briefest break can do a tremendous amount to calm you down and get you ready to nod off.
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