How smartphones are ruining your sleep

Poor little pineal gland. Located deep in the centre of the brain, it's responsible for secreting melatonin – the main hormone regulating the body's circadian rhythm.

Your pineal gland really wants to be best friends and to fulfill its job description of making you feel fresh and alive, but sadly modern life is disrupting its function.

I'm sure the pineal gland yearns for the good old days. The days where our bodies were in a regular sleep wake cycle and natural daylight would suppress melatonin keeping you awake, and at night levels would rise to help induce sleep.

But modern life is hammering the pineal gland like a construction worker ramming a jackhammer into stubborn concrete. Tap-tap-tap. Bang-bang-bang.

Our obsession with constantly connecting to ironically-named smart phones confuses our pineal glands by tricking them into thinking night is day and day is night, suppressing the release of melatonin. Poor little pineal gland.

Your bed should only be for two things – sleeping and special cuddles.

The dark side of blue light

When I was young, 'blue light' was a disco run by the police youth program in local country halls, with children of the '80s running around with their permed hair, tie-dye fluorescent tops and leg warmers that made teenage legs look more like Big Bird than Olivia Newton John.

We all wanted to be awesome break dancers (I blame you Vanilla Ice), but in reality the majority of us performed awkward, staccato moves that looked like we were constantly checking the time on our Swatch watches. But blue light these days has nothing to do with bopping around to Duran Duran.

"Blue light appears to be uniquely detrimental to our sleep," says Dr Michael J Breus, a clinical psychologist and author of Beauty Sleep. "Exposure to blue light at night spurs cognitive function and alertness in ways very similar to daytime stimulation, a change that can make sleep significantly more difficult to achieve."

This can lead to daytime fatigue, poor productivity, and even increase your chances of weight gain if the pattern continues long-term.


Paying the sleep debt

While reduced melatonin and sleep debt is harmful for everyone, teenagers seem to be particularly susceptible. Teenagers' melatonin cycles naturally start and finish later than an adult's – one reason why they like staying up late and aren't exactly 'morning people'. Add hours of being glued to a device before bed and you have the perfect equation for lack of sleep and next day moodiness. Sound familiar to anyone reading with teenagers?

In a study published in Lighting and Research, Dr Mariana Figueiro found that one hour of blue light emitted from a device reduced melatonin production by 23 per cent, while two hours lowered it a staggering 38 per cent in teenagers aged between 15 and 17. Comparatively, two hours of screen time for adults only lowered melatonin levels by 14 per cent.

Sleep is important for so many processes, yet we're selling ourselves short by staying wired up. But that doesn't mean you need to bin your device altogether. The solution starts in your bedroom.

Stop being turned on

Be nice to your pineal gland. You only have one, so please look after it. Turn all electronic devices (mobile, tablets, laptops, computers, TV screens) off 60 minutes before switching off the lights and going to sleep and get into a healthy sleep routine.

Your bed should only be for two things – sleeping and special cuddles. Leave work and electronic devices out of the bedroom and watch your quality of sleep soar. Don't watch TV in bed. Don't do work in bed at night. Don't spend hours on electronic devices before going to sleep. Switch off. Unplug. Disconnect.

I'm a bit old school and still prefer a physical book that you turn the pages on (remember those ancient relics?) But if you do read on an electronic device make sure to at least turn down the brightness, or opt for an original Kindle which is backlit and doesn't emit the evil blue light. Other alternatives include wearing sexy orange goggles or turning on the Twilight app on your smartphone.

These small changes will give you big sleep rewards and you'll have a happy little pineal gland.

Do you use your smartphone in bed? Let us know in the comment section below. 

Workplace performance expert Andrew May has been helping his white-collar clients achieve both physical and mental gains for decades, and has learned a trick or 20 - plus a few of the pitfalls - along the way. 

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