College of DuPage Nursing Student Nicole Caulfield wrote for Healthy Lombard that digital screens affect us physically. Since the COVID-19 pandemic has begun Nicole’s screen time has increased significantly, as for many others. Although remote work or school can’t be avoided, it is important to consider how screen time affects health, specifically, sleep.
Increased Screen Time with Quarantine
While many are staying home working remotely, it is no surprise screen time has increased. According to a recent study by Sesetyan and Muschinske (2020), the use of electronic devices has greatly increased since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to include: the use of the phone and watching television, each by 59%, 55% use of the computer, 31% on tablets, and 25% more time playing video games. The use of technology is vital in day-to-day life but has become even more vital while staying at home during the pandemic. With its many benefits, technology may also be interfering with quality sleep by interrupting circadian rhythms (Sesetyan & Muschinske).
Circadian Rhythm, What Is That?
The circadian rhythm is an internal clock; a 24-hour cycle that aligns with the sun (Claustrat & Leston, 2015). Upon waking in the morning, the sun is up and once the sun sets in the evening, internally due to the circadian rhythm, the body knows it’s time to wind down. The circadian rhythm affects habits or patterns, such as metabolism, although it is primarily known for how it affects sleep by the release of hormones (Claustrat & Leston). The body naturally produces the hormone, melatonin which is produced in the pineal gland and stimulated by darkness (Claustrat & Leston, 2015). Melatonin promotes sleep and maintains it throughout the night (Claustrat & Leston, 2015).
How do screens affect the circadian rhythm?
Electronics give off a light known as blue light (West et al., 2011). This is a visible light on the wavelength spectrum (think back to physics class) that humans are able to see. Blue light specifically gives off more energy or a higher frequency, since it is a shorter wavelength (West et al.). When comparing blue light, which is that used in an electronic screen, to red light, which is that used in a lightbulb, the blue light gives off three times more frequency than the red light (West et al.). Why does this matter? This is important for sleep because light suppresses the release of melatonin (West et al.). Melatonin is important in maintaining circadian rhythms, which indicate to the brain when it’s time for sleep. Therefore, the higher the frequency a light gives off the more melatonin is suppressed.
What is the Solution?
The best thing to do to encourage sleep is to limit the use of screen time. Old habits die hard, as the saying goes. Tips to naturally boost the circadian rhythm include:
- Practice good sleep hygiene. Beds should be kept for two things: sleep and intercourse. While working from home, whenever possible, it is best to keep the bedroom separate from the work environment. If it is necessary to use the bedroom as the workspace area, creating a desk or area separate from the bed is recommended. When working, hanging out, or eating on the bed, the brain loses the connection of what the bed is for (Bathory & Tomopoulos, 2017). By practicing good sleep hygiene, the mind associates the bed with sleep, which will facilitate falling asleep faster.
- Switch electronics to night mode. Many electronics have a night mode feature that can be turned on to give the screen a yellow tint. This mode reduces the amount of blue light emitted.
- Blue light glasses. Blue light glasses also give a yellow tint, like night mode from electronic devices, to, reduce the amount of blue light that is visualized. Blue light glasses can be added to prescription lenses by inquiring at the (eye) doctor’s office during the next appointment.
These tips and methods have been tried by many and found to work for the majority of individuals. It is worth trying when attempting to get a good night’s sleep.
Bathory, E., & Tomopoulos, S. (2017). Sleep Regulation, Physiology and Development, Sleep Duration and Patterns, and Sleep Hygiene in Infants, Toddlers, and Preschool-Age Children. Current problems in pediatric and adolescent health care, 47(2), 29–42. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cppeds.2016.12.001
Claustrat, B., & Leston, J. (2015). Melatonin: Physiological effects in humans. Neuro-Chirurgie, 61(2-3), 77–84. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuchi.2015.03.002
Sesetyan, T., & Muschinske, D. (n.d.). Screen time across several devices has increased for many Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic [Editorial]. Ipsos. Retrieved March 19, 2021, from https://www.ipsos.com/en-us/screen-time-across-several-devices-has-increased-many-americans-during-covid-19-pandemic
West, K. E., Jablonski, M. R., Warfield, B., Cecil, K. S., James, M., Ayers, M. A., Maida, J., Bowen, C., Sliney, D. H., Rollag, M. D., Hanifin, J. P., & Brainard, G. C. (2011). Blue light from light-emitting diodes elicits a dose-dependent suppression of melatonin in humans. Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md : 1985), 110(3), 619–626. https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.01413.2009