To Your Health: Whatever you do, don’t read this before bedtime

phoneDo you check Facebook or Twitter on your digital tablet before you nod off at night? Get in a chapter on your e-reader? Use your smart phone to answer just one more email from your boss?

These activities seem harmless enough, and they might feel like good ways to wind down after a long day.

But emerging research shows that using digital devices before bed could be disrupting your sleep patterns and leaving you feeling groggy in the morning.

The newest study, released earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at sleep patterns between participants who read on an e-reader before bed and those who read a printed book.

Here’s what the study’s authors concluded:

Participants who used a light-emitting e-readers took longer to fall asleep and were less alert in the morning, the study found.

E-readers also disrupted participants’ circadian rhythms – our body’s internal clock – and suppressed levels of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin.

The study’s authors said, “We found that the use of portable light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime has biological effects that may perpetuate sleep deficiency and disrupt circadian rhythms, both of which can have adverse impacts on performance, health and safety.”

In other words, using your smart phone before bed isn’t just disrupting your sleep, it’s affecting your overall health.

That’s not good news for most of us.

Surveys have found as much as 90 percent of Americans report using some type of digital device within an hour of bedtime at least a few nights of week. Some of us can’t imagine being out of reach from our digital devices for very long. (About 44 percent of cell phone owners keep their device by their bed so they won’t miss alerts, texts or calls).

So what to do? Here’s what the experts recommend:

• Turn your bedroom into a digital device-free zone. If your smart phone or tablet is within reach, the temptation to use it before falling asleep is too great.

• Limit your use of digital devices in the hour before you go to bed, and consider making the 15 to 30 minutes before your head hits the pillow a tech-free period. Instead of going on Facebook or answering email, try meditation or listening to quiet music (just not on your iPod). Hey, you could even consider reading a book or magazine on some strange material called paper.

• Don’t forget the kids. Make sure the little ones are also tech-free before bed. Consider reading a book together or having your little one tell you a bedtime story.

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