Insights & Expertise

SJU Expert: Reduce Screen Exposure to Get Better Sleep

In a world that relies heavily on the use of smartphones, tablets or laptops, it has become increasingly hard to find time to “disconnect” from devices, particularly at nighttime. Late-night device use often leads to trouble falling and staying asleep.

Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., professor of psychology and director of graduate psychology at Saint Joseph’s University, says studies show that college-aged students require somewhere between eight and nine hours of sleep per night to maximize the effects of sleep, which include improved memory and cognitive reasoning, and lower risk of inflammation and obesity. Younger students need just over nine hours a night to experience the same benefits.

Jodi Mindell
Mindell

Mindell says that the levels of light surrounding a student, both natural and artificial, can play a large part in how well they sleep.

“Light exposure is what governs the body’s internal clock,” she explains. “Light in the morning goes to the pineal gland and suppresses melatonin production, making it easier to wake up.”

The opposite is also true. Prolonged exposure to light at nighttime decreases the ability to fall asleep by prolonging the production of melatonin. What often throws off the body’s “internal clock” is the use of screens that emit blue light directly into an individual’s eyes, usually in the form of devices.

While blue light suppresses melatonin, what can be a larger problem is the engaging nature of smart devices. Mindell refers to “going down the rabbit hole,” where content becomes increasingly engaging and hard to disconnect from. This “reawakens” your brain, making it harder to wind down and fall asleep.

To combat this, Mindell recommends “saying goodnight” to all screens by not using devices at least half an hour before going to bed. Instead, turn to a good old-fashioned book or e-reader that doesn’t emit blue light. In addition, silencing notifications and charging your device overnight on the opposite side of the room or in another room can reduce the temptation to scroll when trying to fall asleep.

Mindell also recommends avoiding other sources of artificial light at night.

“Having motion detector night lights can be very beneficial for middle of night trips to the bathroom so that your eyes aren’t exposed to bright lights,” she recommends. “And with your phone on the other side of the room, you won’t be as tempted to respond to any text messages or alerts that might have popped up.”