Fatigue? Insomnia? It might be your smartphone!

I originally wrote this article for The Hearty Soul. It can be found here:

http://theheartysoul.com/electronic-screen-effects/

What’s the last thing you look at when you go to bed and the first thing you look at when you wake up? If you thought about your smartphone instead of the face of your lover or looking outside the bedroom window, we need to have a talk.

I think at this point we all understand that our addiction to screens can have a damaging effect when it comes to a social context, by disconnecting us from the present and isolating us from others around us. However, I am still surprised that many of my clients do not connect the dots between too much screen time and having trouble sleeping. And that’s probably due to a lack of education and awareness around the issue.

So here it is: the two main ways that excessive screen time is preventing us from falling asleep is due to 1) continuous cortisol production, and b) not enough melatonin production.

Continuous Cortisol Production

This is a stress hormone that is secreted by the adrenal glands, which sit atop our kidneys. Cortisol production is supposed to be highest in the morning and then drop off at night, in order to allow the body to keep a regular sleeping pattern. However, since cortisol responds to long-term stressors, such as constantly being “switched on” to answer emails on our phone or laptop, it can remain elevated well into the evening, and around our bedtime. This causes us to lie awake in bed staring at the ceiling, tossing and turning and perhaps waking up in the middle of the night, especially between the hours of 2-4am.

Inadequate Melatonin Production

This hormone allows your body to distinguish between day at night, making you feel tired when it gets dark in the room and allowing you to wake up when there’s light. It is produced in the absence of light, which means that darkness is what signals melatonin production! Unfortunately, instead of following our circadian rhythm, most of us lie in bed glued to our phone, laptop or TV screen, suppressing the signal for melatonin production.

What’s more, cortisol and melatonin have an antagonistic relationship, meaning that they fight for dominance. If cortisol levels continue to stay high throughout the day, it will be difficult for the pineal gland to secrete adequate levels of melatonin as the day progresses towards sunset.

Here are some simple tips you can use to guarantee more restful sleep and energy the next day:

  • Buy an eyemask to block out any light in your bedroom when you go to bed.
  • Create a new nighttime routine, one that does NOT involve a screen e.g. reading a book, listening to music, performing light yoga, having a hot bath
  • If you MUST continue to use a screen for work, install Flux, an app that continuously adjusts the brightness and tint of your laptop screen based on the time of day. For example, the screen is brighter during the day, but starts to dim and form a more yellowish tint after sunset.
  • If you’re still struggling despite the suggestions above, purchase a melatonin supplement from the health food store. Liquid acts fastest, and you can start off with the lowest dose at 1mg for a few weeks to see how your body responds.

About Alina

I'm a Holistic Nutritionist based in Toronto, Canada and my official title is Certified Nutritional Practitioner (CNP). I received my diploma in Applied Holistic Nutrition from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. I'm a coach and an educator. Follow Alina on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram for all of the latest updates.
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