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Want to sleep well? Stow the phone away!

Here is news that gadget freaks must lose their sleep over. Phones, tablets and laptops can mess with your melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep. Meaning: the glow inches from the pillow may not be such a bright idea if you are looking to have a good day. Harvard Medical School scientists have found specific wavelengths of light that can smother the lullaby hormone in the brain.

“We have shifted ourselves biologically and therefore can’t fall asleep fast,” said Charles A. Czeisler, a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School. “But we still must wake up early to stay up with our relentless routines.” This results in less sleep, giving the body less time to recover. Getting fewer than eight hours of sleep on a regular basis dulls alertness and reflexes. It also hampers efficiency, productivity and mood.

According to Dr Patrick Troy, a Hartford Hospital pulmonologist specializing in sleep disorders, the light from cellphones, laptops, tablets and such like are depriving lots of people, especially teenagers, of a good night’s sleep. The light emitted by these gadgets interfere with the production of melatonin, a hormone that signals the brain that it is time to sleep. Without adequate levels of melatonin, sleep won’t come easy if at all.

A survey of 1,500 randomly selected adults in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Germany, Britain and Japan on bedroom environment and its effect on sleep revealed that a large majority of respondents watched TV or used a computer, laptop or tablet in the hour before bed.

“It’s a massive issue,” said Sarah Loughran, a sleep researcher at the University of Wollongong, south of Sydney. “We’re not just talking about mobile phones but iPads, TVs, laptops. A lot of these things are in the bedroom.” Bloomberg reported recently that 724 million smartphone units were shipped globally last year, compared with 151 million in 2008.

Without a doubt the noisy ping of an electronic message disturbs sleep. Even worse is staring at the gadgets’ screen late at night, according to researcher Czeisler, who is also head of sleep medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “It’s the exposure to artificial light especially in the evening, in the interlude between sunset and bed-time that has dramatically altered the timing of our endogenous circadian rhythms,” Czeisler said in an interview.

After staying awake for eight or 10 hours, we run out of steam, which prompts our internal clock to send out a surge of wakefulness that increases until the production of melatonin, which suppresses the circadian system and facilitate sleep. Exposure to light exposure in the evening delays the melatonin surge. LEDs, which are standard now on flat-panel televisions, computer displays and smartphone screens, are particularly harmful. The nearly extinct yellow-based lighting that can be dimmed and switched off completely by 10:30 pm will improve chances of a good night’s sleep.

Picasa creator Michael Herf has come up a computer program called f.lux that automatically alters the intensity and spectrum of light emitted by the display according to the time of day. The free software has been downloaded 8 million times since Herf and his wife, Lorna, developed it in their Los Angeles home in 2008.

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