Experts have spoken, studies have been conducted, the results are in: screen time at night is bad for our sleep. The blue wavelengths of light from LED screens like those in our phones, laptops and tablets mess with our circadian rhythm by suppressing the body's release of melatonin, the hormone our body secretes as it gets dark in order to calm us and prepare us for sleep.
When we stare at these blue-lit screens at night time, our bodies don't release the needed amount of melatonin, but release cortisol -- the stress hormone -- instead, which keeps us awake. Neurologists who conducted studies on people who were exposed to blue-heavy lights before bedtime found that those people took far longer to fall asleep than those who were exposed to warmer light or light more evenly distributed across the color spectrum.
That doesn't just make us feel grumpy in the mornings, but a lack of quality sleep over time can have serious impacts on our overall health.
The answer seems simple -- just don't use screens at night. It's true that we should all be managing our screen use and connecting with the world around us a lot more, but most of us rely on screens for our jobs and many of us just like to read e-books. Luckily, there are a few tricks that can let you do a little work or reading past dark without making you toss and turn all night.
This free app for your desktop or laptop computer adjusts the color temperature of your monitor throughout the day to best mimic what type of light your eyes should be exposed to at those times. During daylight hours, the light is more blue-toned and similar to the bright daylight you would be exposed to outside, but as day turns to night, the monitor slowly goes warmer to match the indoor lights around you.
When you download the app it asks where you live and what type of lights you use in your home. It will automatically set the color-shifting schedule for you based on this, but you can also manually control the color if you'd like.
The people in the above-mentioned study who were exposed to screens or lighting that was warmer, didn't have the same difficulty falling asleep. Using the app creates the same effect.
I personally couldn't live without this app. I do all of my work at night after my kids go to bed, so having the warmer light on my screen has not only helped me to transition to sleep after using my laptop, but it has also cut out the eye strain headaches I used to get after working a couple hours at night.
Unfortunately, downloading this app on an iPhone or iPad requires jailbreaking it, which brings me to my next tip.
Oyster e-reader app
If you enjoy reading e-books in addition to your paperbacks, this app is a good choice for any pre-sleep reading on your phone or tablet. I love reading e-books, but the screen at bedtime is too bright. The Oyster app, which is a subscription service that gives you access to unlimited e-books for a monthly fee (described as the "Netflix for books"), has a new built-in Lumin feature that automatically adjusts the tint of the screen depending on what time of day it is. Just like f.lux, it mimics a more neutral or blue-toned daylight during daytime and transitions to an amber color at nighttime, saving your eyes and your sleep.
If you don't want to subscribe to the service, Android users can use the Twilight app to adjust their color and brightness settings for better sleep, but iOS users still need a good free option.
Give yourself screen-free time directly before bed
Even with using these tricks, it's a good idea to create time before closing your eyes where screens are absent. Close your laptop, plug your phone in to charge and then do something like deep-breathing exercises, a few stretches or have a small cup of tea before tucking in. Even a small amount of time can calm and relax you and prepare you for a good night's sleep.