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Sleep Devices

Having trouble sleeping? The culprit may be your smartphone or tablet. Here's how to stay connected and still get a good night's rest.

Sleep Devices

I get a lot of questions from people who have trouble sleeping. Stress levels from work, school and our personal lives can impact slumber quality in a bad way. But a bigger problem in this modern age, with iPads and smartphones being commonplace, is the technology we use and when we use it. If you're checking Instagram or email before you hit the hay, your sleep may be suffering as a result.

A recent study from Brigham and Women's Hospital shows just how detrimental these electronics can be. The researchers had subjects read from a printed book or an iPad for four hours before bedtime for five consecutive nights. They reported in a 2014 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that when the subjects read on the iPad, it took them longer to fall asleep, they were less sleepy in the evening and they spent less time in REM sleep during the night than when they read the printed book.

With the late-evening iPad exposure, individuals also showed a reduced secretion of melatonin, a critical sleep hormone that normally rises in the evening and plays a role in inducing tiredness, as well as a delayed circadian rhythm of more than an hour. Although subjects were less sleepy before bedtime when they read on the iPad, they were sleepier and less alert the following morning after eight hours of sleep. Not an ideal situation if you train first thing in the morning.

Jim's Take-Home Points

The aforementioned study shows one way in which modern technology may be negatively impacting our health. The problem with electronics like tablets, smartphones and computers is the blue light they emit. This type of light increases alertness and decreases sleepiness by impeding the release of melatonin, which can throw off your normal circadian rhythm and negatively impact your recovery from training, not to mention overall health. In fact, other research has shown an association between chronic suppression of melatonin from nighttime exposure to electronics and an increased risk of breast cancer, colorectal cancer and prostate cancer.

The most obvious fix is to not use these forms of electronics in the hours before going to bed. If you're like me, though, this is much easier said than done, with work keeping you connected to your laptop or tablet right up to bedtime. Fortunately, there are other options that can help.

The first is to try a light-changing software program that automatically alters the light your electronics emit from blue to a warmer type of light. One such software is f.lux (justgetflux.com), which "warms" your computer screen light during nighttime hours after keeping it bright like sunlight during the day. The color change takes some getting used to, but the enhanced sleep it can help deliver is well worth it.

The second option is to fix the melatonin problem. Since melatonin secretion may be decreased from nighttime electronic use, you can counteract that by taking a melatonin supplement. I suggest a dose of 2-5 mg of a sublingual melatonin taken about 15 minutes before bedtime. A good product is Natrol Melatonin 5 mg Fast Dissolve Tablets. I break them in half to get roughly a 2.5-mg dose and let it dissolve under my tongue before bed. I sleep like a baby every night despite working on my laptop and iPhone into the wee hours.

Give these two strategies a try and hopefully your sleep quality will be greatly enhanced, not to mention your physique, gym performance and overall health. Sleep tight, my friends!


Chang, A-M, et al. Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences In press, 2014.

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