Most Popular Articles
National Sleep Awareness Week: Cell phones, laptops, iPads and other devices are keeping us up at night
Published: Thursday, March 10, 2011, 12:00 PM Updated: Thursday, March 10, 2011, 12:19 PM
By Kimberly L. Jackson/The Star-Ledger
If you’re among 43 percent of Americans who rarely or never get a good night’s sleep during the week, an electronic device you’ve welcomed into your bed might be to blame, according to a recent National Sleep Foundation survey.
And it’s not just that you’re propped up in bed working overtime on your laptop, or checking for last-minute project updates with the company-issued Blackberry. Even if you’re playing iPad games or watching television in hopes of forgetting work, the bright screens of these devices are likely stimulating your brain in a way that interferes with sleep, experts say.
"Artificial light exposure between dusk and the time we go to bed at night suppresses release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin,” according to Charles Czeisler, who directs sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School and its affiliate Brigham and Women's Hospital. Using electronics right before bed also can make us more alert and shift circadian rhythms to a later hour—making it more difficult to fall asleep, notes Czeisler, among experts whose comments were included in a report on the foundation’s annual Sleep in America Poll. “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," he said.
In the survey, released Monday at the start of the foundation’s National Sleep Awareness Week, 95 percent of respondents reported using some sort of electronic device in the hour before they hoped to nod off to sleep. That hour, according to sleep experts, is critical wind-down time that should be devoted to relaxing pursuits that would support a restful night’s sleep.
Experts further observed that interactive technology use, such as playing a video game, chatting with friends on Facebook or exchanging text messages, had a greater sleep-delaying effect than passively watching television or listening to music. For younger generations, 67 percent (ages 19 to 29) and 72 percent (ages 13-18) of whom reported sleeping with their cell phones, being awakened by late-night text messages only exacerbates a phenomenon that experts say may have serious consequences for physical health, cognitive development and general wellbeing.
Sufficient sleep for children and teens, whose bodies and brains are still developing, is typically about 10 hours per night, experts say. For those with erratic sleep patterns, the solution is often the same as for their parents, says physician Frederico Cerrone, director of Atlantic Health Sleep Centers at Overlook Hospital in Summit, and Morristown Memorial Hospital and Goryeb Children’s Hospital, both in Morristown. “We try to keep them pretty much on a routine sleep-wake schedule: Don’t sleep until 2 in the afternoon, shut the phones off and the laptop at least a half hour before you go to bed,” he said. While Cerrone acknowledges that you can’t make a kid go to sleep, he says getting them to bed at a regular hour and restricting time with the computer and electronic devices can help. “It’s just a little tough love for the kids.”
This Sunday marks the daylight-saving time shift that will rob Americans of an hour's sleep. The good news: More morning light means it’s easier to wake up. Tying in with the “spring forward” clock change, the sleep foundation’s annual peek into our bedrooms was done not only in the interest of measuring sleep quality, but also to help raise awareness about minor sleep troubles as well rest-disturbing disorders such as sleep apnea or insomnia whose treatment requires much more than counting sheep. The National Sleep Foundation is a non-profit whose central mission is to “alert the public, healthcare providers and policy makers to the life-and-death importance of adequate sleep.” The full results of its 2011 poll, gathered through telephone and internet interviews with 1,500 respondents ages 13 to 64, can be seen at sleepfoundation.org.
MAKE ROOM FOR SLEEP
In addition to the effects of technology use on sleep, the survey also looked at how our bedrooms can hinder or support good sleep.
Experts have long suggested avoiding exercise, big meals and spicy foods in the hour before bedtime. As well, we’ve been cautioned against having caffeinated beverages or even chocolate late in the day. And while wine, beer or cocktails can help with relaxation, they can also keep us awake at night, says Cerrone. “Once you metabolize that alcohol, it acts like a stimulant.”
When sleep experts talk about our bedroom conditions, they often use the term “sleep hygiene.” Here are some suggestions on how sleeping clean can help ensure more productive rest.
No distractions: Clutter, noise, light pollution and a room that is too hot or cold can all disturb rest. Create a comfortable sleeping area that is free of such sleep stealers. Exposure to light during sleeping hours is of particular concern as it has been found to interfere with melatonin production and linked to health issues ranging from weight gain to cancer.
Don’t work in bed: Treat your bed as a sanctuary. Experts recommend using it only for sleeping and sex so that it is associated with rest and pleasure. Youngsters should be encouraged to avoid doing their homework or using electronic devices in bed.
If you are not sleepy at bedtime or find yourself still awake 20 minutes after repose, get up and do something relaxing by soft light until you’re drowsy. If worries keep you awake, set aside time each evening to release them. Try using a “worry book” to write out your troubles and possible solutions. Then vow to take action, stop worrying and get to sleep.
Bed linens: Using light, comfortable bedding and garments with an appealing, freshly laundered scent is an effective sleep aid for some. Athletes who are familiar with the cooling and moisture-wicking qualities of so-called performance fabrics, might welcome them onto their mattress. Sheex sheets, which are made of breathable synthetic microfibers, are being marketed as a sleep-enhancing option for athletes as well as those prone to night sweats.
Relaxation ritual: Daily routines can help adjust the body’s inner clock. Along with keeping a regular bedtime, think of preparing for bed as a pleasant end-of-day ritual. To encourage good rest, take a warm bath, enjoy a cup of caffeine-free tea, exchange massages with your partner, listen to soothing music or enjoy a good book.
No-nap policy: According to the sleep poll, 44 percent of all respondents and 53 percent of teens take naps to cope with insufficient sleep. But napping can actually be counterproductive as it throws off circadian rhythms, resulting in a vicious cycle of unrest. If you must visit your bed before nighttime, experts recommend keeping it under an hour and doing so before 3 pm.
Product partnerships: To help get its sleep-related messages to the public, the National Sleep Foundation has partnered with several companies making sheets, pillows, room-darkening window coverings, mattresses and more. “These are products that are widely recognized as improving the sleep environment,” explains Tom Clifford, the foundation’s development director. Each of the partners pays a licensing fee, the amount of which was not disclosed, to use the foundation’s name on product packaging and in advertising, and agrees to distribute the foundation's educational literature along with the selected product. The foundation’s “Guide to Sleeping Well,” for instance, is being distributed with Serta Perfect Sleeper mattresses, and “Managing Light for Better Sleep” is included with the conical Philips Wake-up Light.
Clifford says the licensing agreements should not be considered endorsements of the products as being superior to others in their respective categories. However, he said partner products are rigorously tested to ensure they meet or exceed established industry standards. “What we decided to do is to work with companies that are leaders in their fields to get our sleep information out,” he said. To see licensed products, visit the foundation's Sleep Shop.
If a new mattress, specialized pillows, luxe sheets and better-sleep suggestions don’t seem to help, Atlantic Health’s Cerrone suggests an online sleep quiz that might be a clue to sleep disorders. “Do you still feel sleepy or fatigued during the day? Any near-misses while driving? Can you concentrate? How is your short term memory?” These are questions a sleep quiz will ask, he says. Your score will indicate if medical treatment might be appropriate. Find a sleep quiz at ahsleepcenters.com and sleepeducation.com.