As 2014 draws to a close, many people contemplate resolutions for next year. I can get a little carried away when it comes to my goals to the extent that remembering them causes me some stress (it’s pretty hard to, say, become fluent in Mandarin over the course of one year while living in the U.S.). More and more, my goals involve technology—learning about it and experimenting with it, sure, but I’m increasingly resolved to limit my interactions with it, particularly on social media (thanks, Black Mirror), and to spend more time reading actual books. Part of this is due to recent studies that suggest just how bad it is to spend so much time in front of a screen, particularly before bed, as well as a new study that offers insight into how spending so much time on our devices is reprogramming our brains.
The screen-sleep connection isn’t a new one, though its seriousness has recently come to light in recent studies, particularly one published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital have found that anyone whose winding down ritual involves using a smartphone, eReader, computer, or most types of TV might be doing themselves serious sleep damage. Scientists already knew that the light from the screen suppresses sleep-inducing melatonin, which makes it tough for people to fall asleep. But the new study indicates “comprehensive results of a direct comparison between reading with a light-emitting device and reading a printed book and the consequences on sleep.” In a two-week study, people who read on an iPad before bed took longer to fall asleep, got less REM sleep, and produced less melatonin than print book readers. They also felt more tired after 8 hours of sleep.