The dangers of overstimulating the brain before bed are becoming ever-more apparent. Research into sleep science has shown that the proliferation of TVs and mobile devices in particular is causing us to become more restless at night and suffer from interrupted sleep patterns.
Dr Glen Kemp of Newcastle’s Science City gives us his view on the problems of poor sleep patterns. He suggests that a large proportion of the population suffer from low-level chronic sleep deprivation, often without realizing it. He says,
“Looking at electronic devices just before going to bed can trick the brain into keeping us awake. So even an apparently regular sleep pattern can be an unhealthy one if it results in insufficient sleep.”
The mental effects of consistent sleep loss can be profound. Repeated loss of sleep not only reduces energy and leaves an individual with a sense of fatigue, it also impacts on co-ordination, hormone balance and brain function. In fact, it is thought that sustained sleep deprivation may be connected with memory loss and even Alzheimer’s disease.
You may believe that half an hour sleep lost a night is neither here nor there, but experts are now saying that this could be a dangerous misconception.
Dr Kemp says, “Even mild but repeated loss of sleep has been shown to have a significant impact on mental performance.
“Although oversleeping has been shown to have a negative effect too there is a psychologically beneficial effect in reducing stress levels induced by loss of sleep. So a guilt-free period of deep relaxation is still beneficial without necessarily being fully asleep.”
Another popular belief is that having a lie-in on a weekend can negate any sleep loss incurred during the week through working late or watching TV until late in the night. However, this could also be a misconception with current thinking suggesting that a fundamental shift in sleep patterns to allow more time in bed.
Dr Kemps suggests, “The ideal situation would be to change sleep patterns to eliminate chronic sleep deprivation. In most cases this means an earlier night.”
Love them or loathe them – and it has to be said that most of us love them – electronic devices are an integral part of our day-to-day life now. But this shouldn’t extend to the bedroom.
Lights out means lights out
Our eyes are connected to our brains in such a way that the sight of bright light can’t help but stimulate our brains into wakefulness. Don’t be fooled by the idea that background TV watching helps to send you drifting off to sleep. Yes, you may regularly fall asleep in front of a screen, but the light exposure will still impact on your quality of sleep.
This light, combined with the stimulation of whatever it is being shown on the screen, reduces our brains’ efficiency at shutting down for rest and recovery. Scientifically speaking, it disrupts our circadian rhythms concerned with the day–night cycle.
It is particularly important to pay attention to the body’s natural cycle of sleep and remove obstructions in children, as their need for sleep is greater as they grow and the development of their brain function ongoing.
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