Australia may be fast asleep to an imminent public health crisis around a lack of sleep. Australians are tired and our health is suffering as a consequence. However it’s time to wake up as it is our teenagers that are suffering the most health issues from this lack of sleep.
Research has shown that a lack of sleep has been linked to anxiety and depression, obesity, elevated blood pressure and cholesterol, heart disease and stroke, immune deficiency, impaired memory and cognitive function, alongside anger management, learning, emotional and behavioural problems.
Adolescents are paying the price more than anyone and it not only affects their current health but will also affect their health into adulthood.
There are many factors that are to blame for this lack of sleep. The introduction of electric lighting significantly changed our sleep-wake patterns. More recently, our fast pace society is mostly to blame with our desire to fit more into our days, our achievement-driven society, 24 hour access to entertainment, information and communication and our willingness to forsake sleep to do more in our days.
Experts are also suggesting that artificial light from tablets, smart phones and laptops are contributing towards sleep disorders in teenagers. Experts are warning that the light emitted from digital screens can have a disturbing effect on the body clock. These devices emit about half the illumination of an ordinary room light and may delay the timing of the circadian clock as well as suppress the production of the hormone, melatonin.
The circadian clock or rhythm is a biological process that regulates the sleeping and feeding patterns of animals including us human beings. Melatonin is produced when it is dark and helps to regulate and promote sleep. People who do not have enough melatonin may take longer to fall asleep. The circadian clock may be affected depending on how far away the electronic device is from the eyes, how bright the light is and what colours are being emitted. The most disruptive light is short wavelength blue light, which is exactly what backlit portable screens have which shines directly into our eyes.
There are three main affects of using electronic devices:
- The devices emit light and due to their portable nature they are often held close to the face. The light suppresses melatonin and that interferes with the circadian rhythm making it harder to fall asleep.
- The devices are also a form of entertainment and so are mentally and physically arousing. It takes a while to wind down after using them and often delays the onset of sleep.
- Also, these electronic devices are often in the bedroom with young people and even in their bed. This creates an association between the bed as a place of study or work or socialising rather than a place just for sleep or rest.
Stay tuned for some helpful ways to improve your sleep.
Article written by Dr Melanie Woollam (Osteopath)
Australian Sleep Association www.sleep.org.au