New research from Frontiers in Public Health has examined the effects of light-emitting devices such as mobile phones, tablets and e-readers, on our sleep patterns, and what should be done to reduce this effect in future. This research is especially significant for children, who are becoming some of the most frequent users of such devices.

How do technology devices affect sleep?

Most gadgets such as smartphones and tablets emit a blue light, which has grown stronger as the devices have evolved, and it is this blue light which causes adverse effects on sleeping patterns. The light effects melatonin production, the hormone which helps us to drift off, causing us to lay awake restless and delaying sleep “by an extra hour”. Prof Paul Gringras, who was a part of the research team and is a doctor at Evelina Children’s Hospital in London, told the BBC that these features are “great for use in the day, but awful for use at night”.

More responsibility needed from manufacturers”

Prof Gringras added that whilst the devices are ‘fun’, more care needs to be taken to ensure that some sort of protection is offered for night time, to ensure that we sleep peacefully at night. Software and apps already exist which are designed to reduce the effects of blue and green light emissions, including f.lux although there is a responsibility put on manufacturers to help improve the situation.

The study called for hardware to feature “an automatic ‘bedtime-mode’ that shifts blue and green light emissions to yellow and red as well as reduce backlight/light intensity”. This could drastically reduce the effect that these devices have on our ability to sleep without compromising the quality needed for daytime.

How can I ensure a better night’s sleep?

It may be some time before gadget manufacturers make changes to help us sleep better, which is why it’s important to do what you can now to give you and your family a helping hand. Some useful tips to ensuring a healthy sleeping routine include:

  • Setting a routine. Deciding on a set time to go to bed each night and when to wake up is beneficial for both adults and children, helping the body’s internal clock to normalise and become used to following the same pattern each day.
  • A bath can help you get ready for bed by relaxing your body and increasing your temperature to the point where it’s ready for sleep.
  • Try reading to your children instead of letting them watch TV in bed. If you can avoid having screens in there at all, this will instil good habits which they’ll carry with them later in life.
  • Make bedrooms as ‘sleep-friendly’ as possible by making sure curtains are thick and block out sunlight, that beds are comfortable (particularly mattresses) and that they are kept at a regular temperature.

The amount of sleep we need varies by age, with young children needing up to 11 hours of sleep, teenagers needing 9 hours of sleep, and the majority of adults needing between 7 and 9 hours of sleep. You will know in yourself how much sleep you need, but if you are finding that you’re tired most of the time, you may want to reassess how much sleep you get.

The NHS has some great tips for helping you and your family to sleep better. Winding down your technology use before bed is a great first step to improve your sleep patterns, helping your body to recover in time for the day ahead – why not try it for a week and see if your sleep improves?