Light Pollution

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All that tech is hurting your sleep, researchers say

Posted on March 8, 2011 by Noel

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“If you’re having trouble getting a solid night’s sleep, the blame may rest on all the gadgets you’re using.

A whopping 95 percent of Americans use some kind of technology an hour before they go to sleep, the National Sleep Foundation found in a poll released today. The organization said Americans are turning on their televisions, mobile phones, computers, or video game devices before bed “at least a few nights a week.”

The problem: using technology before bed can negatively affect a person’s ability to fall asleep and to get the amount of sleep they need.

“Artificial light exposure between dusk and the time we go to bed at night suppresses release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, enhances alertness and shifts circadian rhythms to a later hour–making it more difficult to fall asleep,” Dr. Charles Czeisler, a professor at Harvard Medical School, said in a statement. “This study reveals that light-emitting screens are in heavy use within the pivotal hour before sleep.”

When it comes to television before bed, age is a distinguishing factor. The National Sleep Foundation said that 67 percent of baby boomers watch TV every night or nearly every night an hour before they try to sleep, while 63 percent of Generation X folks do the same. Half of all people between the ages of 13 and 18, also known as Generation Z, watch television every night, while 49 percent of Generation Y–folks between 19 and 29–say they flick on their set.

With other devices, however, Generation Y and Generation Z lead the way.

The National Sleep Foundation found that 61 percent of Americans use a laptop or computer an hour before they go to bed. Generation Z and Generation Y were most likely to engage in that activity with 55 percent and 47 percent of people in those groups saying they use a computer before bed, respectively. Generation Z and Generation Y members are nearly twice as likely as baby boomers to play a video game an hour before trying to go to sleep, the organization said.

The National Sleep Foundation also examined mobile-phone use before bed. And not surprisingly, 56 percent of Generation Z users and 42 percent of Generation Y respondents send or receive text messages an hour before going to sleep. Just 15 percent of Generation X and 5 percent of baby boomers do the same.

Use of technology prior to bed can affect more than just sleep, researchers say.

Lauren Hale, an assistant professor at Stony Brook University Medical Center, said that the “higher use of these potentially more sleep-disruptive technologies among younger generations may have serious consequences for physical health, cognitive development and other measures of well being.”

Hale’s comments follow a study released in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology Metabolism in January that found light at night can cause high blood pressure and diabetes. Even more disconcerting, a study released last year by the University of Haifa found that light at night can increase cancer risks, as well.

“Exposure to LAN (light at night) disrupts our biological clock and affects the cyclical rhythm that has developed over hundreds of millions of evolutionary years that were devoid of LAN,” researchers at the University of Haifa said at the time. “Light pollution as an environmental problem is gaining awareness around the world, and the World Health Organization…has already classified working the night shift as a higher grade of cancer risk.”"

How enlightening. I don’t need to tell you how critical obtaining proper rest is to overall productivity during the day. Yes, our bodies can adapt towards a more nocturnal sleep schedule, but if there’s light to disrupt us while we sleep, the same amount of damage is done if we were using a more diurnal sleep schedule. Whenever we sleep, eliminating light helps our bodies produce melatonin and allows us that feeling of a good night’s sleep. Turn off the lights in your house, whether they are lighting lamps or electronics, and shield your outdoor lights. Only then, can we dream of seeing the heavens above in all its glory.

Let there be night!

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