For many of us, the last thing we see before closing our eyes at night is our smartphones. Sometimes, even after a good night kiss, we still slip in one final look at our social media accounts, games, and messaging services.
We all know it’s not a good idea, but we still do it anyway. But did you know the effects are even more harmful than we first thought? Aside from a smartphone supposedly emitting radiation, the light alone can be harmful.
Humans have circadian rhythms. That is, our body knows when to release certain hormones depending on light exposure. As studied by Dr. Dan Siegel, a psychiatrist from the University of California Los Angeles, when you check your phone at night, it’s sending a stream of photons right into your eyes and telling your brain not to secrete melatonin (the hormone that makes you feel tired).
When our bodies don’t get melatonin, we stay awake longer. When we’re awake longer, we tend to check our smartphones more until our brains finally tell us it’s had enough and we finally fall asleep hours after the intended bedtime.
It’s like a cycle that only results in you not getting enough sleep. Less energy for the day almost everyday.
But losing hours of sleep isn’t really as simple as not having enough energy. Siegel said sleep supports the glial cells that are crucial for cleaning up the neurotoxins that build up in our brains throughout the day.
When we don’t get a solid seven to nine hour-long sleep, our glial cells can’t do their jobs and we can end up with impaired memories and attention spans. Failing to clear away some toxic proteins may also play a role in brain disorders.
If that’s not enough, lack of sleep also affects metabolism. Less sleep makes healthy people’s bodies resistant to insulin—a condition that is a common precursor of weight gain, diabetes, and other serious health problems.
Healthy bodies release insulin when you take in sugar to signal to cells that they should absorb some of that new glucose. But when the body becomes insulin-resistant, cells are less responsive to that signal, and glucose levels rise in the bloodstream.
In other words, less sleep causes less energy, a risk of brain disorders and memory loss, and slower metabolism. A triple whammy.
So the next time you feel like reaching for the phone for one last peek at your social media accounts or for one last attack in Clash of Clans, think again. A few minutes’ exposure could ruin what could be a restful evening.