The effects of electronics on a good night’s sleep

Monday, February 16th, 2015

Return to 2015 Winter Edition of Banana Moments Family Business Quarterly

Dr. Susan Weinberger, President of the Mentor Consulting Group in Norwalk, Connecticut, specializes in developing mentoring programs for youth. Dr. Weinberger is a contributor to Banana Moments and she prepared this article based upon her own personal experience and recent research.

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Dr. Susan Weinberger, The Mentor Doctor

Dr. Susan Weinberger, The Mentor Doctor

Our daughter, mom of our two grandsons ages 13 and 11, has a demanding career as the president and lead designer of a successful design firm. She spends most hours of her day on the computer, creating incredible designs for clients of major companies. Long after the boys have been tucked in to bed, she still is working to finish a job and ensure important deadlines are met. Then she goes to bed. Unfortunately, for more than two years, she is exhausted because she is either unable to fall asleep or gets up in the middle of the night and cannot fall asleep.

My own career does not require that I work until late at night. But since my days are full and very busy at work, I typically spend the evenings just before going to sleep to catch up with e-mails. I use the evening hours to check Facebook and other forms of social media on my laptop, iPad or cell phone. Lately I turn the electronics off, shut off my light and hope to go to sleep.

Over the past five months, I have had difficulty sleeping. I blamed it on having too much on my mind, making mental lists for what I needed to do the following day with clients, perhaps drinking a cup of coffee too late in the day or other excuses. I was feeling exhausted during the day yet trying to sleep at night was becoming painful. I was very concerned. I began to wonder if my brain was confused between night and day. It reminded me of those transcontinental flights and the tricks travelers often play in order to make up the time differences caused by jet lag.

According to my husband, a veteran Pediatrician, the strong light can reset a person’s internal sleep clock. Does this mean that we should refrain from using any of these electronics after 9 p.m. at night?

Impact of electronic devices on a child’s quality of sleep

For parents and children that are experiencing similar issues, perhaps the answer to inability to enjoy a solid and peaceful eight hours of sleep is too much stimulation from the screens of personal electronics. According to my husband, a veteran pediatrician, the strong light can reset a person’s internal sleep clock. Does this mean that we should refrain from using any of these electronics after 9 p.m. at night? Sleep researchers now indicate that consumer electronics, particularly laptops, smart phones and iPads are shining bright light into our eyes until just before we doze off. Researchers have confirmed that these gadgets are fooling our brain into thinking it is daytime.

This makes sense to me.

I was eager to fall asleep but my brain was saying it is light, it is daytime, and you can’t go to sleep. “Potentially, yes, if you’re using the iPad or a laptop close to bedtime that light can be sufficiently stimulating to the brain to make it more awake and delay your ability to sleep,” said Phyllis Zee, a neuroscience professor at Northwestern University and director of the school’s Center for Sleep & Circadian Biology. “I think more importantly, it could also be sufficient to affect your circadian rhythm. This is the clock in your brain that determines when you sleep and when you wake up.”

Alon Avidan is the associate director of the Sleep Disorders Center at UCLA. He explains that when receptors in our eyes are hit with bright light for an extended period of time, they send a message to the brain saying it’s time to be awake. The brain, in turn, stops secreting a hormone called melatonin, which makes people sleepy and helps regulate the internal sleep clock. Normally, our brains start giving us that hormonal sleep aid at about 9 or 10 p.m. but if bright lights are shining in our eyes, that may not happen as planned.

If the screen of an iPad or laptop shines light directly into the reader’s eyes and can disrupt sleep patterns, then I propose a solution. After a certain hour of the night, ideally 9 p.m., these forms of technology must be put away. If you or your children want to read at night before going to bed, try a good old fashion book or an e-reader that does not emit the same light. Even watching the television from a distance in bed or the little light that illuminates a paper book shoot far less light straight into the eye, according to researchers.

Hit the reset button for sleep

Feeling tired every morning I decided to listen to both my husband and the researchers. For three weeks, I have stopped using my laptop, cell phone or iPad after 9 p.m. I often read a chapter of a good book or a magazine just before bedtime. I am happy to report the results have been incredible. I fall asleep, sleep well and feel very rested when I get up in the morning.

How can we as parents ensure that not only we have a good night’s sleep but also that our children are sleeping well at night and are fully prepared to be alert and ready for their days at school? Tired children cannot learn as well as those who get a good night’s sleep.

I know that young people have long days at school and a schedule that is packed with both their academics and all those extracurricular activities. By the time they get home, they have to use their on-line apps and tools to do their homework. But it might be time for families to consider the effects of electronics and set reasonable boundaries as they relate to sleep and the health and well-being not only of themselves but also their children. Can parents put a moratorium on electronics after 9 p.m.? It is worth a try. Now I am going to convince my daughter to do the same!

(BMB-0164-1)

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About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna (jullien@surewest.net) and her husband have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from U.C. Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture). Her honors thesis was awarded the Kroeber Prize and funding from National Science Foundation grant. Joanna writes to help parents with the modern-day leadership challenges of raising children. She is a contributing writer for The Granite Bay View, the Press Tribune, the Sacramento Examiner, and editor of Banana Moments.

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