by 105 student
Ever wonder why you sometimes just can’t get to sleep? Maybe you should blame those hours before bed spent on the computer or tablet. Research shows that exposure to light at night, especially from electronic devices, suppresses melatonin, which makes it more difficult to go to sleep. Melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland, a small gland in the middle of the brain. Among other functions, melatonin regulates circadian rhythms—in other words, our sleep cycles. It is produced at night, when it is dark; that’s why exposure to light at nighttime can disrupt this normal production and lead to lower levels of melatonin, making it harder to sleep.
Exposure to light at night causes not only this annoyance of not being able to get to sleep. One study gives evidence that exposure to light at night contributes to depression. Hamsters that were exposed to light on many consecutive nights while sleeping showed more signs of depression than hamsters who slept in darkness.
Light exposure at night affects both plants and animals, in wild and urban settings. People have night shifts at work, live in big cities where there is a lot of light pollution, and use their computers or tablets or watch TV for long periods of time, especially before bed. All of the effects of this high level of light at night are unknown, but it is agreed to be a problem. Various people and companies have invented small solutions to the problem. For example, Michael Herf created a program called f.lux, which automatically adjusts the color temperature of your screen to the time of day or night, making sure that if you are on your computer when it is dark outside, your computer is not emitting short-wave “white” LED light. The short wave LED light is more damaging to sleep than other types of light because it suppresses melatonin production the most (), so this program changes the light emitted by your computer or tablet to have more of an orange glow. In addition, another study shows that there is significant improvement in sleep quality when people wear blue- or UV- light blocking glasses for three hours before bedtime.
So next time you want to get a good night’s sleep, pick up a book instead of the computer, or put on some amber-tinted glasses for a few hours. You’ll be asleep quickly (lacking any other causes of insomnia) and find significant improvements in your mood. (more…)