Is Your Smartphone Hurting Your Health?

Studies show that using smartphones at night can cause some serious problems.

By Brian Keenan, MD | Apr 17, 2016

These days, we’re on our cell phones more than ever. But when it comes to using your smartphone in bed, it may be time to give it a rest.

A 2014 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that people who read on a light emitting device, like a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, took longer to fall asleep, had a worse quality of sleep, and took longer to fully wake up than those who read printed books instead.

It turns out the type of lights these devices emit could be to blame.

Our bodies associate different kinds of light with different times of day. During low light times, our brains produce melatonin, a type of hormone that signals to our bodies that it’s time to go to bed. However, our brains correlate blue lights - like the kind emitted from our cell phones - with the daytime, telling us that we should be awake.

That becomes a problem because the light from our smartphones suppress the release of melatonin and confuse our brain into thinking that it’s time to be awake.

This throws off our circadian rhythm - or internal body clock - leading to restless nights and some pretty critical health problems.

Sleep deprivation is quite a serious issue. It’s been proven to cause memory loss, affect our ability to learn and retain information, and can even cause depression and obesity.

And if we continuously expose our brains to blue light at night, it can cause neurotoxins to build up, making it harder each night to get the proper amount of shuteye.

But, melatonin is more than just nature’s sleeping pill…it’s also a powerful antioxidant that keeps our bodies healthy. In fact, some studies have suggested that the suppression of melatonin can put us at risk for certain cancers, including breast or prostate cancer.

Sleep deprivation is quite a serious issue. It’s been proven to cause memory loss, affect our ability to learn and retain information, and can even cause depression and obesity.

If that’s not enough to make you put the phone down before bed, here are a few more facts about the harm it could cause your body.

Scientists are currently exploring the possibility that these blue lights can even cause damage to our eyes.

According to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, the overexposure to blue light can harm our retinas, leading to macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness.

Other studies are also currently looking into whether or not the lights from our smartphones could be causing a higher incidence of cataracts.

It’s not that blue light on it’s own is terribly damaging. After all, we’re exposed to it every day when we come into contact with the sun’s rays - it’s the fact that with our smartphones and other devices, we’re coming into contact with it more often and in close range.

So, what can you do to protect your eyes and get your sleep schedule back on track?

As an emergency room physican, I often need my phone with me when I'm on call. However, I at least make sure to adjust its settings. Almost all cell phones these days give you the option to dim the brightness, and some even allow you to reverse the print so that the text is light and the page is dark, causing the device to emit less light.

However, for most of the population, I feel that the best option is just to quit, cold turkey. That’s right, when you go to bed, put. The phone. Down. And if having your cell on your nightstand proves to be too much temptation, leave it in another room and try using  an ancient device called an “alarm clock." Your brain will thank you for it.

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Brian Keenan, MD

Physician

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