I've written a couple of articles now on all the science that says staring at a tablet or smartphone screen before bed is terrible for your sleep (and your productivity the next day). But I still do it anyway.
Why? Probably for the same reasons that tons of other people ignore the scientific advice on this subject -- reading my iPad in night mode disturbs my husband less, I'm anxious to check my email even though it's late, I greedily downloaded that new bestseller rather than taking the trouble to buy a book at an actual store, etc.
Despite the scientific consensus, most of us can't resist sleeping with our gadgets beside us these days, so are we all just doomed to exhaustion and poor quality sleep? While science hasn't been able to separate people from their beloved gadgets at bedtime, it may be able to provide another solution to the problem in the form of a simple intervention that can counteract screens' ill effects on sleep.
Fighting bad light, with good
The problem with looking at screens before bed is the "blue light" they emit. Studies have shown exposure to it at bedtime leads to less restorative sleep and therefore more drowsiness the next day, even if you spend a solid eight hours in bed. But scientists out of Uppsala University in Sweden may have discovered a way to fight this "bad" light. All you need is more exposure to "good" light during the day.
The team's research, which was recently published in Sleep Medicine, indicated that simply by getting more bright light when you're awake -- either by spending time outside or spending time in better lit spaces -- you can counteract the effects of your screens' blue light.
"Our main finding was that following daytime bright light exposure, evening use of a self-luminous tablet for two hours did not affect sleep in young healthy students," said lead author Frida Rångtell, summing up the findings. Though the researchers note that while getting more sunlight during the day can fight the physical effects of late night screen use, it won't do anything to help you if your sleep problems stem from the emotional stress caused by that email check.
In other words, scanning your inbox right before bed might still be a bad idea for other reasons. It's also worth noting another important caveat: this is an extremely small study with a miniscule 14 participants, so further investigation could overturn the results.
Still, as most of us refuse to be parted from our screens, day or night, any other suggestion than kicking the habit sounds like it's worth a try, especially one as easy and actionable and spending a bit more time out of doors.
Do you find looking at screens before bed impacts your sleep?