Over the past few weeks, headlines have been peppered with claims that reading eBooks before bed is bad for your health. A new study, published in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), has found that reading light-emitting eBook before sleep can compromise the quality and length of your sleep amongst other things.
Researchers conducted experiments on 12 subjects, who were put into controlled environments before bed for a period of two weeks. Participants were either given a light-emitting (LE) eBook or a print book to read for four hours before sleep. Those reading LE eBooks fell asleep on average 10 minutes later than those reading print, had suppressed levels of the sleep hormone melatonin, slept less deeply and took ‘hours longer’ to wake up in the mornings.
All this can lead to serious health issues: sleep is crucial to maintaining an alert, healthy body and suppressed melatonin production can lead to an increased risk of certain kinds of cancer, including breast and prostate. What’s more, the experiment failed to take into account the extra reading time that LE eBooks can contribute to as the participants had an enforced ‘bedtime’. In reality, extended exposure to light during the hours of darkness can trick your body into thinking it isn’t tired, making you stay up later.
The cause of this has yet to be proved, but it has been suggested that the long. blue-tinted wavelengths of light emitted by LE eBooks might be the culprit. These effects have also been noted in people who tend to use their laptops, desktops, or certain kinds of LED televisions, within an hour before bedtime. If this is the case, simply dimming your LE eBook screen will not be enough to counteract it.
Defining light-emitting (LE) eBooks
An LE eBook is literally that: an eBook read on a device which emits light. This experiment only used LE eBooks viewed on tablets at full brightness, but because most backlit eReaders give out the same blueish light, we can infer that their effects on health are probably the same.
On the plus side, non-light-emitting eReaders like the original Kindle or Nook use only reflected light, and likely have the same health effects as a print book.
How can you protect yourself?
These findings can be scary, but they don’t need to be. It’s just time to start practicing safe screen-watching. Here’s our four top tips for staying safe with screens:
- Use an non-light-emitting eReader before bedtime, or an eReader with the backlight turned fully off.
- If you must read on a tablet, though, the f.lux app might be able to help. Designed to limit exposure to blue, long-wavelength light, it slowly tints your screen red as the day goes on. It’s available for Windows, Linux and Mac computers, as well as iOS tablets.
- Have a designated time to turn off the screens as well, try and make it an hour before bed, but definitely cull those 3am surfing binges: your body really is tired, just give it a chance to tell you that.
So go out there, app up, protect yourself today: digital’s still got a long way to go!