What are the causes and effects of using smartphones before going to bed?

The number of times you have had to use your smartphone before going to bed is innumerable and you can be sure that you're not alone. In fact, so common is the practice that 37-60% of the population in the UK do this 5 minutes before they sleep. About the same number of people also use their smartphones within 5 minutes of waking up. We’re living in an era where almost everything has been digitized and can be found with a swipe of your smartphones; from the food you consume to your romantic dates! As exciting as the experience of using your smartphone is before retiring to bed may seem, it could be greatly jeopardizing your health.

A study carried out by Mobiles.co.uk in the UK found out that most people use their smartphones for communication via text messages and email or social media messaging. This is unlike the initial way of communication through phone calls which would lead to minimal exposure to blue light.

According to the sleep foundation organization, using electronic devices before bedtime can adversely affect your sleep. These electronic devices include but aren’t limited to TVs, tablets, smartphones and laptops. The ability of a smartphone to be used anywhere makes it pose even more risks than any other gadget. So then, what are these adverse impacts?

Interference with the circadian rhythm

Blue light from the sun is responsible for regulating the sleep-wake cycle, also referred to as the circadian rhythm and the eye contains photoreceptors that are sensitive to this blue light. The effects of blue light on ocular health and circadian rhythms is very harsh, the eye detects blue light when it triggers the production of melatonin hormone which induces sleep. The blue light emitted by screens on your smartphone results in restrained production of melatonin hormone, making it hard for you to fall and stay asleep.

Causes cognitive stimulation

Besides interference with the sleep wake cycle, exposure to blue light keeps your brain alert by tricking your mind into thinking it needs to stay awake. Some experiences make it hard to relax and settle to sleep such as reading a negative email or an exciting Facebook story. The brain needs time to unwind after spending an entire day bombarded with information and devices.

It can damage your eyes.

Blue light emitted from your electronic devices is the part of the full light spectrum visible to the human eye. We’re exposed to it by the sun each day, and at high levels at night through the emissions from digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other LED screens. This high level of exposure may be damaging your vision.

The American Macular Degeneration Foundation warns that retinal damage caused by blue light could lead to macular degeneration. The condition affects the cells in the retina that help you see clearly . The results of the condition is that you develop blurry vision and if it's not dealt with in time, you could lose your sight altogether.

Another possible risk of overexposure to blue light is developing cataracts. A cataract is a cloudy and dense area that develops on the lens of your eye and causes foggy-like vision. These occur when blue light causes the production of reactive oxygen species in the mitochondria of the epithelial cells in the lens.

By putting away your phone at night, you could be saving your eyes from a plethora of conditions.

It can increase your risk of cancer.

Apart from regulating your sleep cycle, melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant that’s essential to your body’s ability to naturally fight against cancer. When the production of melatonin is suppressed, your risk for cancer and other related ailments increases. If you’re a consistent night time phone user, you greatly increase your risk of cellular damage, increased inflammation and healthy immune function.

Impacts in children

Children often use their parents’ smartphones to play games and sometimes study. The brain has its own impulses, and since mobile phones function on electromagnetic waves for, communication is carried out between the child’s neural network and the phone. Hence, the waves from the phone can easily penetrate right into their interior parts of the brain because they do not have a strong shield. This often leads to disturbed brain activity and poor academic performance.

Due to the impacts of blue light, the National sleep foundation recommends that you put off your smartphone 30 minutes before sleeping time. However, it’s clear that this may not be an all-time solution especially for those who work up until late using their smartphones. An alternative then has to be adopted. This is why there are anti-blue light glasses and blue light filters for iPhones to ensure that there’s continued use of digital devices while at the same time, health risks are mitigated. These filters decrease the amount of blue light emitted from the screen of the device. This means if you use these filters when looking at a screen, especially at night, they can help reduce exposure to blue light waves that can keep you awake.

As you use your smartphone, be careful to take precautions that will protect you from harmful artificial blue light.

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