We hear it time and time again: if you want to sleep well, you have to ditch the screens before bed. All that late-night scrolling and streaming, according to research and sleep experts, keeps your brain alert and energized, which can delay falling asleep and prevent you from getting quality rest. The light emitted by your electronic devices essentially disrupts your biological clock and sabotages your sleep. The ubiquitous advice is simple enough – stop using your devices an hour or two before bed – but that’s not because we know we actually will. For my part, I am well aware that I should not scrolling through Instagram or catching up on my current favorite show just before I go to sleep, but I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t part of my nightly routine. I also read on my Nook until the minute I feel drowsy. I can’t get away from screens, so I don’t know how I’m supposed to ditch them completely for my precious evening down time.
Turns out I might not have to. (phew!) according to Jade Wu, PhDbehavioral sleep medicine specialist and author of the new book Hello Sleep, there’s a world where you can enjoy your screens at night without totally derailing your sleep schedule. First you need to make some changes to your daytime routine.
Get as much light as possible during the day.
Dr. Wu’s first advice is to make sure you are exposed to a lot of light during the day. To understand why this is important, you must first understand how your sleep-wake cycle, or internal clock, works. Melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, spikes in your body in the evening, stays at high levels overnight, and drops in the morning and throughout the day. « Melatonin is a time-measuring hormone that tells your body when it’s time to get sleepy and naturally responds to the amount of light in the environment, » Dr. Wu tells SELF. When there’s little light, your brain knows it’s nighttime and releases melatonin, which makes you sleepy. If you’re surrounded by a lot of light, whether through daylight or artificial light from a screen or lamp, your brain thinks it’s daytime and suppresses melatonin, keeping you alert and awake. .
Research shows that the brain needs a great contrast of light — during the day versus night — to keep your biological clock on track, Dr. Wu says. If you’re out all day, for example, and whether you come home, hide under the covers, turn off the lights, and read a book on your tablet, there will always be a huge difference in the amount of light you are exposed to. For. In this scenario, your nighttime screen use won’t interfere with your sleep as much as if you were working indoors with the curtains closed all day. Essentially, your brain keeps track of how much light it’s been exposed to throughout the day, according to Dr. Wu. « If five hours ago there was a lot of light, and now there’s has some light from your screen but much less, the brain will still know it must be evening now, even if there is still some light coming through, » she says. Unless you’re a ranger, for example, you probably don’t spend most of your waking hours outdoors, but there are other ways to increase your exposure to daylight. Sit by a window, take as many breaks outside as possible, and use bright lighting in your home office. Again, the more light you can get during the day, the less disruptive your screens can be, says Dr Wu.
Turn on the lights at dinner time.
Increasing the amount of light you’re exposed to in the early evening, around dinnertime, can also lessen the negative effects of late-night screen use, says Dr. Wu. If, like me, you’re a little addicted to your devices, she suggests that you make it a point of honor to turn on your lights a few hours before going to bed (around 7 p.m. if you come home at 10 p.m., for example). However, you want to be in dim, sleep-inducing light a few hours before bed, so a short burst of bright light is the goal here: get out and watch the sunset if you can, or turn on the lights in the kitchen while you cook or eat dinner. “Earlier in the evening, you briefly inject yourself with light so that your body is ready to contrast later in the evening when there is less light,” says Dr. Wu.