Feeling tired and wired in the evenings? The reason for that just may be our beloved evening friend Netflix.
As we’ve been hunkering down screen time has been going up. Prior to the Coronavirus, American adults averaged 11 hours a day in front of devices.
Now, since the start of the Pandemic and social distancing, total internet hits have surged by between fifty and seventy percent. Streaming has also jumped by at least twelve percent.
Whether we’re binge-watching Tiger King, Zoom video conferencing with colleagues, or scrolling through bottomless Instagram, a somewhat “hidden pain” is happening right behind our eyes.
What’s at Risk?
Even if your eyes don’t hurt or feel tired it’s important to understand how prolonged blue light exposure can impact the quality of your sleep and increase your risk for certain diseases.
According to researcher Kathryn Russart, PhD artificial light at night, whether from screens or a lightbulb, are “endocrine disruptors” causing damaging effects similar to those caused by PCBs, mercury from fish, and refined sugar.
We all know that daily binges on “junk food” food is detrimental to health. The same is true for artificially produced “junk light” from screens and light bulbs.
Let’s take a closer look…
The circadian rhythm is an approximate 24-hour period wherein your body is receiving light and darkness cues that tell it when to release certain hormones and carry out biological functions that are important for health.
However, research shows that most Americans are spending ninety percent of their time inside with artificial light and in front of screens.
The circadian rhythm should be responsive to the rise and fall of the sun, but due to the little exposure to natural light during the day and high amount of artificial light especially in the evening, these natural rhythms are out of sync.
If you’re streaming Netflix or scrolling Instagram at 10:00 pm you’re exposing your eyes to artificial blue light which tells your brain it’s high noon. As a result you’re not secreting melatonin and it’s becoming difficult to fall asleep.
Unfortunately, lack of sleep isn’t the only thing at risk. Not getting the sleep you need is detrimental to your immune system. The potential health consequences related to circadian rhythm disruption include: weight gain, insomnia, anxiety, depression, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimers, Parkinson’s, and cancer.
Netflix vs. The Sleep You Need
Netflix is on the chopping block and your teeth are beginning to chatter nervously. But here’s the thing: we’re all conditioned to scroll Instagram and watch one more episode of Netflix due to the dopamine reward centers in our brain.
These reward centers are seeking pleasure and even more so as the day winds down and we’re tired. Being tired makes it more difficult to make a healthy choice, but it’s a double-edge sword — one that makes us lose sleep tonight and be more tired tomorrow.
Therefore, start with what’s doable as you wean yourself off screen time. Start by powering down your devices 30 minutes before bed.
Since blue light emitted from our devices lowers melatonin by up to 50% being off devices for 30 minutes is a good starting point. Ideally, and with practice, aim to power down your devices 1-2 hours before bedtime at least 5 days a week.
Helpful Tips for Better Sleep:
- Watch less or watch earlier.
- Get outside, especially in the morning to expose yourself to light – this will boost your ability to sleep at night and improve your alertness during the day.
- Consider wearing blue-light blocking glasses in the evening.
- Install an app that filters blue/green light at night on your computer and smartphone.
- Use dim lights at night. Red light has the least power to shift the circadian rhythm and suppresses melatonin.
- Make a list of ways you can unwind in the evening without use of screens. Here are some ideas: reading, listening to music, playing an instrument, chatting with a friend or family member, journaling, and other self care practices.