Speaking as earnestly as an iPad is backlit, Arianna Huffington implored attendees at the Aspen Ideas Festival Wednesday to ban their tablets and smart phones from their bedrooms, for the sake of their health. "I personally have made my bedroom a device free zone," the digital publishing entrepreneur said. "I only have real books by my bed. Not even Kindle editions. No iPad. Nothing. It's incontrovertible. The problems that people have sleeping, a lot of them are connected to screens. People are just on their screens up until the last moment. They wake up to go to the bathroom, and they immediately turn to their data, as if something major is going to happen... Do you keep devices by your bed when you go to sleep? I ask you, please, to never do that again."
Like so many statements against interest, Huffington's seems to be correct.
"Researchers are finding that artificial light from some devices at night may tinker with brain chemicals that promote sleep. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute showed that exposure to light from computer tablets significantly lowered levels of the hormone melatonin, which regulates our internal clocks and plays a role in the sleep cycle," The New York Times reported last year. "In the study, published in the journal Applied Ergonomics, the researchers had volunteers read, play games and watch movies on an iPad, iPad 2 or PC tablet for various amounts of time while measuring the amount of light their eyes received. They found that two hours of exposure to a bright tablet screen at night reduced melatonin levels by about 22 percent."
Here's a terrifying quote from the American Medical Association about light pollution generally:
Biological adaptation to the sun has evolved over billions of years. The power to artificially override the natural cycle of light and dark is a recent event and represents a man-made self-experiment on the effects of exposure to increasingly bright light during the night as human societies acquire technology and expand industry. In addition to resetting the circadian pacemaker, light also stimulates additional neuroendocrine and neurobehavioral responses including suppression of melatonin release from the pineal gland improving alertness and performance. Low levels of illuminance in the blue or white fluorescent spectrum disrupt melatonin secretion. The primary human concerns with nighttime lighting include disability glare (which affects driving and pedestrian safety) and various health effects. Among the latter are potential carcinogenic effects related to melatonin suppression, especially breast cancer. Other diseases that may be exacerbated by circadian disruption include obesity, diabetes, depression and mood disorders, and reproductive problems.
Alas, I've also found it anecdotally true that looking at a backlit screen right before bed makes it harder to fall asleep.
Will there ever be an app for that?