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Using Electronics Before Bed May Hamper Sleep
Date:3/7/2011

es it actually hurt sleep? Harvey said the survey doesn't prove that. Still, she suspects exposure to light is a problem. "No one's proven it yet, but it seems more than tempting to speculate fairly strongly," she noted.

Dr. Matt Travis Bianchi, a sleep specialist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said the issue of light before sleep is complicated: not all kinds of light activate body cycles in the same way, and a little bit of light -- such as from a TV at a distance -- might still cause a problem.

Also, "we are very different in our sensitivity to light," he added. "I have on rare occasions had patients who were 'light-toxic,' in that if they got bright light late at night they couldn't sleep at all. Contrast that with patients I have who sleep with the light and TV on routinely, and don't have much problems that they can feel."

What can people try to do to sleep better?

Harvey recommends an electronic curfew. Also, "try to stick to a fairly regular wake time, get bright light in the morning and dim light at night, exercise regularly and have a bedtime routine of 30 to 60 minutes when you're letting yourself wind down," she suggested.

If you don't sleep well but can't bear to tear yourself away from the TV or computer before going to bed, Bianchi recommends trying a pair of "dampening glasses," which will filter out the most damaging light. You can try them, he said, and see if they make a difference.

He also said people should be aware that it may not be the light of a cell phone or computer that triggers sleep problems. It could be the anxiety produced when you, say, read an e-mail that makes you angry.

More information

For more about understanding sleep, try the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

SOURCES: Allison G. Harvey, Ph.D., professor
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