- Running regularly improves the quality of sleep you get each night. However, logging too much screen time before bed could mess with your shuteye, new research suggests.
- Prolonged exposure to backlit screens before sleep affects the circadian system by mimicking the effects of sunlight. That suppresses release of melatonin, the key hormone that regulates sleep-wake rhythm.
- Creating a routine for at least 30 to 60 minutes before sleep that doesn’t involve electronic devices can get your sleep back on track and give you more energy throughout the day.
Even if you have plenty of sleep-friendly habits like running regularly—research indicates that exercising can be a boon for getting quality sleep—logging too much screen time before bed could set you back, new research in the journal Sleep suggests.
Researchers looked at two different time periods during the COVID-19 lockdown in Italy, comparing the third week of restrictions with the seventh week. During that time, internet traffic volume almost doubled compared to the previous year. Using a web-based survey of about 2,000 people, they collected data on sleep quality, insomnia symptoms, and device usage.
About 92 percent of people reported an increase in electronic device usage between the first and second surveys, and these respondents all had an increase in insomnia issues, shorter sleep times, later bedtimes, and later wake times.
A small number of respondents—about 7 percent—reported a decrease in evening screen time, and also noted they had improved sleep quality. They also reported going to bed earlier after four weeks of lockdown. An even smaller group of respondents—about 1 percent—had no change in device habits and also reported no variations in their sleep habits.
Although these results seem COVID-specific, they would likely apply even without lockdowns as a variable, according to the study’s first author, Federico Salfi, Ph.D.(c), in the Department of Biotechnological and Applied Clinical Sciences at the University of L’Aquila, in Italy.
“COVID just provided an ideal context to highlight the detrimental effects of technologies on the sleep of the general population,” said Salfi. “However, considering the involved mechanisms of action, we think that our findings certainly can be generalized to the future, as technologies will find more and more space in our daily routine.”
That reason why too much screen time before bed can mess with your sleep quality is related to how light affects biological and cognitive function simultaneously, he added. Prolonged exposure to backlit screens before sleep affects the circadian system by mimicking the effects of sunlight. That suppresses release of melatonin, the key hormone that regulates sleep-wake rhythm.
“Also, the overuse of electronic devices in the evening counteracts natural sleepiness due to the emotionally charged content,” Salfi said. In particular, the pandemic created exposure to repetitive and continuous stressful information about COVID that may have provoked anxiety and emotional distress. In turn, he said, that makes it much harder to fall asleep and can sabotage deep sleep throughout the night.
The takeaway, not surprisingly, is advice that’s been around well before the pandemic hit: Create a routine for at least 30 to 60 minutes before sleep that doesn’t involve electronic devices. Salfi added that getting into that habit can get your sleep back on track, and brings all the benefits of improved shuteye along the way, like more energy during the day and less anxiety in general.