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Your E-Reader May Be Keeping You Up At Night

With most of the world running on the millions of electronic gadgets floating around the planet, it only makes sense that the good old fashioned book would be replaced with something technological as well, but new research shows that your e-reader may not be allowing you to get all of the sleep that you need at night. The study was conducted by the Women’s Hospital in Brigham along with Harvard Medical School, which is located in Boston, Massachusetts, and a report was published the journal titled, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Assistant professor of biobehavioral health from the Pennsylvania State University, Anne-Marie Change was the leader in this study, and what she found was that when compared with reading by the light of day or by a lamp with a traditional paperback novel, the light that is emitted by devices like a tablet or e-reader have a higher concentration of blue light, which can be extremely bright to the eyes, and peaks at 450 nm. This level of light left people with the inability to fall asleep as quickly, and it also took them longer to become alert the following morning.

Understanding The Study

For the study, 12 adults were monitored over the span of two weeks, and were observed reading from paperback novels as well as from an electronic tablet. What they discovered, was that those participants who read using the iPads took an additional ten minutes to fall asleep, and during their rapid eye movement stage of sleep, there was less REM than those who had read using a book. They also noted that those participants who had read using the tablets were tired in the morning, and seemed less alert than those who read the paperbacks. Medical News Today reports: “Each participant read from an iPad for 4 hours before bed – from 6-10 pm – for 5 nights in a row. They did the same with a printed book. Whether they read first from the iPad or from the printed book was randomly decided, but the researchers say the order did not make a difference to the results.”

Although this is what the team set out to determine, Chang and her group were rather surprised by their results. They were especially concerned with the fact that the participants were slow moving and sluggish in the morning if they had read with a tablet the night before. This proves that the amount of technology used before sleep time can drastically impact your daily life. The results provide insight not only on tablets and e-readers but on mobile phones, laptops, computers, televisions, and a variety of other bright lighted electronics that people tend to participate with before bed.

Reading Materials

Throughout the study, those involved in the experiment were allowed to read whatever type of material they chose as long as it was classified as leisure reading and had no photos or images in it whatsoever. The point of this was to focus specifically on reading, rather than other activities on electronics which might do more than just take account of the different lighting, but would also require the factoring of additional stimulation such as those found in games or puzzles. Live Science explains: The bright light emitted by an iPad could give some people reading before bedtime a bout of insomnia, researchers suggest. This is because the iPad uses a back-lit display rather than the “e-paper” found in other popular e-readers such as the Kindle that mimic the printed, duller page by reflecting light from elsewhere.”

Melatonin levels were monitored each hour using polysomnographs which helped them to read the participants brain waves, heart and breathing patterns, as well as calculate their REM patterns and how long the volunteers spent in each level of sleep during the experiment.

What This Means For Sleep Research

The researchers use of the Karolinska Sleepiness Scale helped them decide that the suppression of sleep levels was due to delays in the circadian clock, which was causing patients longer to fall asleep than usual. CNN reports: “More than ever, consumer electronics — particularly laptops, smartphones and Apple’s new iPad — are shining bright light into our eyes until just moments before we doze off. Now there’s growing concern that these glowing gadgets may actually fool our brains into thinking it’s daytime. Exposure can disturb sleep patterns and exacerbate insomnia, some sleep researchers said in interviews.”

This information will help future studies determine new ways to prevent insomnia, and could be the stepping stone into research on more substantial electronic usage and how it affects sleep and other daily life patterns in humans that utilize them predominantly before bedtime. Data collected from future studies could mean different forms of backlighting in future devices, or a tough decision being made by consumers on how they use these products and whether or not more traditional forms of entertainment are required before sleep.

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