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Disconnect to sleep better

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There’s no doubt that technology has made our lives easier – any lost pedestrian with a GPS could affirm this. But, according to new findings, technology’s grip on our lives could be affecting a key pillar of good health – sleep.

A new study commissioned by the National Sleep Foundation in the US has found that an increasing number of Americans are not receiving the sleep required for healthy functioning and that it is due, in part, to the pervasive use of communications technology and gadgets.

In particular, the cause for concern is use of technology in the hour before going to sleep.

Forty-three per cent of Americans between 13 and 64 report they rarely get a satisfactory sleep on weeknights and more than half say they have experience sleep problems (such as snoring, waking in the night, feeling unrefreshed) every or almost all nights.

“This poll explores the association between Americans’ use of communication technologies and sleep habits,” says David Cloud, CEO of the National Sleep Foundation. “While these technologies are commonplace, it is clear that we have a lot more to learn about the appropriate use and design of this technology to complement good sleep habits.”

A good portion of respondents reported heavy use of technology in the hour before sleep. Almost all respondents to the survey – 95 per cent – reported using some medium of electronics, whether it be television, computer, video game or mobile phone at least a few nights of the week before going to bed.

“Artificial light exposure between dusk and the time we go to bed at night suppresses release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, enhances alertness and shifts circadian rhythms to a later hour – making it more difficult to fall asleep,” says Charles Czeisler, PhD, MD at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “This study reveals that light-emitting screens are in heavy use within the pivotal hour before sleep. Invasion of such alerting technologies into the bedroom may contribute to the high proportion of respondents who reported that they routinely get less sleep than they need.”

Television was a major contributor to the pervasion of technology, with two-thirds of baby boomers (67 per cent), 63 per cent of Gen X respondents and half of Gen Z and Y respondents reporting its use within an hour of going to sleep. Computer and laptop use was also common, with six in ten respondents saying they use it at least a few nights a week before bed.

“Over the last 50 years, we’ve seen how television viewing has grown to be a near constant before bed, and now we are seeing new information technologies, such as laptops, cell phones, video games and music devices rapidly gaining the same status,” says Lauren Hale, PhD at Stony Brook University Medical Center in the US. “The higher use of the potentially more sleep-disruptive technologies among younger generations may have serious consequences for physical health, cognitive development and other mesasures of wellbeing.”

“Unfortunately, cell phones and computers, which make our lives more productive and enjoyable, may also be abused to the point that they contribute to getting less sleep at night leaving millions of Americans functioning poorly the next day,” says Russell Rosenberg, vice chairman of the National Sleep Foundation.

Tips for a good night’s sleep

The National Sleep Foundation advises those who have trouble sleeping, or experience sleepiness throughout the day, to follow these tips.

  • Adhere to a sleep schedule, sleeping and waking at the same times each day.
  • Expose yourself to morning light to energise your body and dim the lights when you are close to sleeping.
  • Exercise regularly, preferably in the morning, and avoid vigorous exercise within the hour before bedtime.
  • Establish a bedtime routine, particularly with relaxing activities.
  • Avoid caffeine, chocolate, tobacco and large meals before you sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol before bed as it deprives your body of the deep sleep it requires.
  • Do not have late-afternoon or evening naps. And if you do nap, keep it to a maximum of 45 minutes, preferably before 3pm.

Published on: Thursday, April 07, 2011

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