Sleep and Screens: A Troublesome Two-some

Do you, or does someone you know, have trouble falling asleep?

It’s not uncommon to have trouble falling asleep if you are worried or wound up. For individuals with AD/HD, “turning off” a restless brain can make falling asleep difficult as well.

But, there may be a culprit you are not aware of: screen-time. Yes, certain types of screen-time can be stimulating, and that can impact falling asleep. But it’s not only the stimulation that makes screen-time tricky in the evening.

Screen-time, even if its content is boring, actually exerts an effect on production of the hormone melatonin which regulates your circadian rhythms, otherwise known as your sleep-wake cycle. This can keep you from falling asleep!

Here’s how it works:

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that helps to put us to sleep at night. The timing, intensity, and color (wavelength) of light exposure impacts the production of melatonin by the pineal gland, a small gland located near the center of the brain. The wavelength of blue light (a wavelength of 420-440 nm) is the most effective for lowering melatonin production and thus for preventing sleep.

Exposure to the blue rays in daylight, or from a specially designed “sun light,” early in the day can benefit a normal melatonin production cycle. The morning light inhibits melatonin production, and we want low melatonin during the day when we have things to do! However, in the evening, we want increased melatonin so that we get sleepy. Unfortunately, melatonin production is interrupted by exposure to lights, TV, and especially computer and computer-type screens (because they are so close to the face) that we often use in the evening. Exposure to the blue light emitted by these devices, especially within two or so hours of one’s desired bed-time, can delay sleepiness. 

Research has linked interrupted melatonin production and abnormal circadian rhythms not only to  insomnia but also to increased AD/HD symptoms, depression, increased cancer risk, and other health concerns.  

What can be done? 

1. First, check with your doctor to discuss the impact of mood, medications, and other factors on your sleep. As examples, anxiety can contribute to difficulty sleeping; taking stimulants for AD/HD too late in the day, or taking beta blockers for high blood pressure, can impact falling asleep;  and/or undiagnosed sleep disorders may be an issue.

2. If you can get up and out to get sun exposure in the mornings, go for it! At least 20 minutes is  typically recommended to promote a normal sleep-wake cycle.  (In the winter, when there is less sunlight, some people benefit from using a “sun light” for 20 or so minutes each morning – check with your doctor.)

3. If you can avoid screen-time in the two hours before your preferred bedtime, do it! Some light-sensitive individuals may even benefit from swapping regular light bulbs for bulbs emitting less blue-light. (If screen time before bed is a must, an option is to use blue-blocking glasses in the evening.)

Need some help with your sleep patterns? A coach can help you look at your evening routines and develop good “sleep hygiene” – routines and practices that encourage a regular sleep and wake cycle. For more information, contact me for a no-cost consultation:

For more on AD/HD and sleep, here’s a link to another blog post: ADHD and Sleep: 8 Tips for Getting Those zzzzzzzzzzzs!

Sleep well!

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