Health beat: Sleep experts advise us to power down devices way before bedtime

  • Article by: JEREMY OLSON HEALTH
  • Updated: May 31, 2014 - 2:00 PM

Sleep medicine experts want you to start thinking about your late-night habits along the lines of fast food.

That bacon double-cheese monstrosity you know you’re not supposed to have? Equate that with the hour you spent playing Farmville or some other computer game on a brightly-lit screen.

Those 30 minutes you Twitter away toward midnight? Those are the greasy french fries of the sleep medicine world.

It turns out that bright light can trick the body’s natural sleep clock, and fooling with sleep patterns has health consequences.

“So we take this bright screen and we shine it in our eyes until 11 o’clock,’’ said Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler, a Mayo Clinic sleep specialist and president-elect of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “That’s really telling our biological clock, ‘Oh, maybe you don’t need to go to sleep until midnight.’ ’’

The academy and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have launched a campaign in response to the rising number of Americans who get fewer than the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. As many as a third of Americans are falling short.

Sleep “is like any other aspect of our health,” Morgenthaler said. “We have to be stewards of our health. We can’t cram 7 hours of sleep into 5 hours of sleep time.’’

A lack of sleep has been linked to poor cognition and memory, as well as obesity and even increased risks of diseases such as diabetes and certain cancers.

“When you go below 6 [hours], there are substantial and measurable adverse effects,” Morgenthaler said.

The obsession with screen-time is only part of the problem — the nation’s rising obesity rate also contributes to problems such as sleep apnea — but it is one that is fundamentally changing how people sleep without them necessarily knowing it.

“We shut off our devices and we wonder why we can’t go to sleep,’’ Morgenthaler said. “It’s not rocket science.”

Morgenthaler, a father of five, requires his children to check in their devices at nighttime. Children and adults might be able to fool themselves at night, but the alarm clock the next morning isn’t forgiving, and school and work still start at the same time.

“We don’t always respect as a society … what biologically we were created to do,” he said. “There’s no such thing as a night person. We are biologically created to sleep when it is night.”

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