© 2013 Roy Benaroch, MD
Lots of people, kids and adults, seem to be having trouble falling asleep. Now, one solution would be to go to med school and do a residency—you’d be so exhausted, you could fall asleep while talking to your spouse (while you yourself were talking. Good trick.) But that would be impractical, and we’d end up with too many dermatologists. Instead, a recent study has found that there might be a simpler solution. Just turn off those screens!
The study, from New Zealand, looked at sleep habits of about 2000 children from age 5-18, correlating bedtime routines with what’s called sleep latency: how long it took them to fall asleep. The data and conclusions are simple: the kids who spent more of their presleep time watching TV took the longest to fall asleep; the kids who watched the least TV right before bed fell asleep the quickest.
It makes sense. For most of human history, our circadian rhythms were controlled by the sun. When there was light, it was day. Darkness means night. Now, we spend a tremendous amount of time not only under artificial light, but even worse, staring into light sources. Your TV, your phone, your iPad, computer monitors—all of them create light. When you stare at light, your brain thinks it’s daytime. No sleepy. Get it?
That doesn’t even include the stimulating effect of TV shows and crazy video game entertainment. I’m thinking that couldn’t help anyone sleep well, either.
The research was done on kids, but almost certainly applies to adults as well. Want to fall asleep better? Get more exercise (earlier in the day), stay off caffeine (that applies to everyone else but me, I have condition*). And turn off the TV and other video sources for a few hours before bedtime.
You can use that time to read one of your new medical textbooks!
*”I have condition” is an homage to my dad, who used this overall excuse for almost, well, anything. Try it sometimes, it works great!