After sunset, darkness signals our brain that it’s time to produce melatonin, the hormone that controls sleep and wake cycles. However, artificial lighting—especially the “blue” light that comes from many electronic devices—suppresses melatonin production, making it more difficult to wind down.
“As we expose ourselves to light during the day, we’re suppressing melatonin, which helps signal the circadian rhythm that it’s time for bed,” says Kevin Carter, DO, family medicine physician who is fellowship-trained in sleep medicine. “Research shows that this disruption to our internal clock affects sleep not just that night but the next night as well,” Dr. Carter says. “Unfortunately, many people use their devices before bed, thinking it will help them relax, but it’s doing just the opposite.”
How can I improve my sleep habits?
To help your brain wind down for sleep naturally, Dr. Carter recommends the following:
- Dim the lights as you approach bedtime, preferably right after the dinner hour. Turn off all but the lights necessary for safety.
- Establish a “digital curfew,” staying away from electronics starting two hours before bedtime.
- If you love watching TV before bed, try sitting farther away from the screen.
- If you or your children must use devices at night (such as for homework), dim the screens. Some devices also have a “night mode” function that blocks the more stimulating types of light.
- If you prefer reading on a screen, use an e-reader that mimics the appearance of ordinary ink on paper rather than on a tablet or smartphone. This technology is easier on your eyes—and your brain!
Why is good sleep important?
Lack of sleep, or frequently interrupted sleep, contributes to lack of focus, increased mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, and short-term memory loss. Make sure you’re taking care of your body and getting adequate rest to stay safe and healthy.