12 INVESTIGATES: Electronic insomnia

Published: May. 8, 2013 at 2:00 AM EDT|Updated: May. 8, 2013 at 3:15 AM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - If you toss and turn all night and think scrolling through Facebook will help you get tired, think again. There's a dark side to being over connected with tablets, phones and computers.

It's the blue light from these devices that makes the picture clear - but it's also causing major sleep disorders.

Working the night shift in a hospital, Matt Wilmoth was always exhausted. "I couldn't stay awake. I was very very tired. I was sleepy all the time," said Wilmoth. Forcing himself to sleep while the sun is out was hard enough. Constantly clicking on his digital devices made sleep impossible.

"It's a media consumption device. So you're brain is active and I'm reading stories and doing things and the light is coming in," said Wilmoth.

The light from the screens are draining you. Your body is controlled by rise and fall of the sun. When there's less light, your body releases melatonin, a hormones which makes you sleepy. According to doctors in multiple studies, just two hours in front of light from electronic devices before bedtime can suppress melatonin by 22%.

Dr. Gerry Santos helps hundreds of patients a year at the Bon Secours Sleep Disorders Center. Many of his patients are addicted to devices. They have initiation insomnia, meaning they have a hard time falling asleep. "Light stimulation actually blocks melatonin secretion so if you don't have enough melatonin in your body it's very difficult for your to go to sleep," said Dr. Santos.

Studies link the lack of melatonin to cancer, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.

"We need to stop that light stimulation at least one hour before you go to bed. It's very important to have regular structured sleep times and wake times because the body likes routine," said Santos.

He recommends getting off your tablets, phones and computers at least one hour before bedtime. Wilmoth said that simple advice allowed him to feel well rested for the first time in years. "I didn't really know how bad I felt until I started creating a routine," he added. "Put the device down and get your rest during your sleep."

Doctors tell us it's especially important for children to get their rest. If you notice slipping grades or if you have a difficult time getting them up in the morning. They too, need to get off the devices an hour before bed.

Study: "Light level and duration of exposure determine the impact of self-luminous tablets on melatonin suppression" - http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003687012001159

Study: "Tablet Computers Could Affect Our Sleep Patterns" - http://www.journals.elsevier.com/applied-ergonomics/news/tablet-computers-could-affect-our-sleep-patterns/

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