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Why reading from your iPad could keep you awake at night

Study shows that electronic readers disrupt sleep patterns more than paperback books

Struggling to nod off after your bedtime story? A new study claims that reading from an iPad or other backlit eReader before beditme can damage sleep patterns. 

The research, conducted by Harvard Medical School, saw 12 people sleep in a laboratory for a fortnight. On some days they were given paper books to read before bed, on others they were given iPads. The research showed that sleep patterns suffered on the days when people were using the iPads, adding further weight to earlier research which has shown the blue light emitted from electronic devices interferes with the production of sleep-inducing hormones. 

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The use of light-emitting electronic devices for reading, communication, and entertainment has greatly increased recently,” the research paper states. “We found that the use of these devices before bedtime prolongs the time it takes to fall asleep, delays the circadian clock, suppresses levels of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, reduces the amount and delays the timing of REM sleep, and reduces alertness the following morning.

“Use of light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime also increases alertness at that time, which may lead users to delay bedtime at home,” the paper adds. “Overall, we found that the use of portable light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime has biological effects that may perpetuate sleep deficiency and disrupt circadian rhythms, both of which can have adverse impacts on performance, health, and safety.”

Although the research was conduced using just Apple’s tablet, the researchers claim that other tablets and backlit eReaders – such as the latest Kindles – would have a similar effect. Early Kindle models, which didn’t use backlighting, would be unlikely to disrupt sleep, the scientists claim.

The researchers are particularly worried about the damage e-readers may be doing to children’s health. “Because technology use in the hours before bedtime is most prevalent in children and adolescents, physiological studies on the impact of such light exposure on both learning and development are needed,” the paper states.

“Further investigation of the physiological and medical effects of electronic devices is warranted, because the acute responses to the short-wavelength–enriched light emitted by them may have longer-term health consequences than previously considered.”


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