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E-Readers, Tablets, Smartphones Are Ruining Your Sleep: Study

By William Peacock, Esq. on December 24, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Having trouble sleeping at night? Here's the latest culprit: backlit digital screens.

According to a recent study conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School, the blue light from backlit devices (that would be pretty much everything: smartphones, tablets, and most e-readers) can lead to reduced melatonin, which leads to less sleep, less quality sleep, and increased grogginess the following morning. Long-term reduced melatonin levels can be even more serious, as other studies have linked it to an increase in one's risk for certain types of cancer.

But, but, a cute girl is texting me! And a client is freaking out over email!

Reduced Sleep and More

How much sleep are we talking about? Study participants, on average, took a whopping 10 minutes more to fall asleep. (Not a typo.)

It isn't just quantity, however: It's quality. Participants who used backlit devices also had lower levels of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin (print readers showed no effect), had less REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, and reported lengthy periods of grogginess the following day, reports The Guardian.

As for the long term, the study's authors note that other studies have linked "chronic suppression of melatonin secretion by nocturnal light exposure with the increased risk of breast, colorectal and advanced prostate cancer" among those who work night shifts.

Huge Caveats in This Study

This all sounds terrifying, and really does make you wonder: Is abstention from your smartphone worth the extra 10 or 15 minutes of sleep?

Before you banish your iPhone or tablet from the bedroom, note the big caveat: The study participants were instructed to read for four hours per night on their tablets before going to sleep. That's a lot of time in front of a screen -- but then again, between the office, the television, smartphones, and tablets, how often are we not in front of a screen?

The study should make you wonder if, to reference Sheryl Crow, a change would do you good. (Then again, non-backlit Kindles, which can handle email, and print books, showed no ill effects because they emit no blue light).

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