Bedtime Reading Gone Wrong

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

March 4, 2015

  • Is there a “wrong” way to read?
  • A natural circadian rhythm is essential to health
  • The best e-readers for bedtime reading

If you like to read, you probably get a great deal of pleasure spending a few hours with a good book or magazine before bedtime. It’s a great way to clear your mind, soothe your nerves and prepare for a good night’s sleep.

But if you’ve traded in your hard copy reading materials for an e-reader, you might not be getting the same results. In fact, chances are good you’re not getting enough deep sleep and probably waking up groggier in the morning.

It turns out using light-emitting e-readers like Kindle Fire, Nook Color, iPad and iPhone before bedtime increases alertness. So it takes you longer to fall asleep at night. This sets off a cascade of events that delays your circadian rhythm and suppresses production of melatonin.

Here’s how it works.

Your body has a “master clock” that controls your circadian rhythm. This is a group of nerve cells in an area of the brain that’s just above the optic nerves. When the optic nerves sense less light, they send a signal to the master clock to tell the brain to make more melatonin so you can get sleepy. The blue light from e-readers prevents this signaling from happening.

This explains why light-emitting devices keep you awake longer at night. It also shows us how these same devices can negatively impact both your circadian rhythm and melatonin levels which, in turn, affect your ability to fall asleep and stay that way.

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Unfortunately, abnormal circadian rhythms and poor sleeping patterns are associated with a lot of health problems. If you’re using a brightly lit e-reader for your nighttime reading, here are just a few conditions you may be promoting.

If you’re not getting a full seven or eight hours of quality sleep each night, it can lead to much more than fuzzy thinking. It can have a huge impact on your long-term health. In fact, it can contribute to many chronic diseases associated with aging.

Here are just some of the complications associated with poor sleeping patterns…

Shortened telomeres: Sleeping less than five hours a night is associated with shortened telomeres. This opens you up to an increased risk of many health issues. This includes heart disease, cancer, dementia and chronic inflammation. Shorter telomeres are also linked to a reduced lifespan. Longer telomeres, on the other hand, are associated with robust health and a longer lifetime.

Chronic inflammation: Sleeping less than six hours a night can result in higher levels of three inflammatory markers. These include fibrinogen, IL-6 and C-reactive protein. Each of these compounds has been implicated in heart disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s and other inflammatory diseases. Chronic inflammation also shortens telomeres.

Heart disease: People who get less than five hours of sleep a night are twice as likely to have high blood pressure and cholesterol compared to those who get seven or eight hours of sleep a night. They’re also more likely to experience a heart attack or stroke.

Alzheimer’s disease: The less sleep older people get, the more chances they have of developing age-related brain atrophy, beta amyloid deposits and cognitive decline. All of these increase your chances of developing Alzheimer’s.

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Diabetes: If you don’t get enough sleep, it can have an impact on your glucose metabolism and insulin response. All in all, it could increase your risk of diabetes by about 75%.

Chronic inflammation: Sleeping less than six hours a night can result in higher levels of three inflammatory markers: Fibrinogen, IL-6 and C-reactive protein. Each of these compounds has been implicated in heart disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s and other inflammatory diseases.

Weight gain: While you sleep, chemicals and hormones that help control appetite are released. If you’re not sleeping soundly, those chemical messengers and hormones are disrupted, which can cause you to gain weight. Getting a good night’s sleep on a routine basis, however, may support a healthy weight.

Let’s take a look at what you can do to re-set your circadian rhythm and boost your melatonin levels so you can get the sleep you need and help nip these health threats in the bud.

Now, if you like the convenience of having an e-reader, there is a way to get around the negative effects on your sleeping patterns.

Both Kindle and Nook have e-readers that aren’t backlit with blue light. The Kindle Paperwhite and the Nook GlowLight are both front-lit. They each have a white background with black typeface, just like a book. These are, by far, your best choices if you like to read before bedtime.

What should you do if you want to continue using your existing Kindle Fire, Nook Color, iPad and iPhone for reading? It’s best to shut them down a couple hours before bedtime. Then, just switch over to print materials for the last hour or two before falling asleep.

To reset your circadian rhythm and get the sleep you need each night, I recommend supplementing with time-released melatonin. It works like regular melatonin to put you to sleep quickly. But it works longer, which helps keep you from waking up during the night.

Because melatonin is a hormone, I suggest using it only on a short-term basis. You just need it until you’ve re-established your natural sleep/wake patterns. Look for a formula that contains about 4 or 5 mg. of time-released melatonin.

It’s also a good idea to select a melatonin formula that contains a few herbs that have been proven to help you sleep soundly. For example, valerian and hops can help you sleep longer, and more deeply. And they do it naturally. Lemon balm is great, too, because it produces a calming effect

Chang AM, et al. “Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness.” PNAS (early edition). Dec 2014.

Jackowska M, et al. “Short sleep duration is associated with shorter telomere length in healthy men: findings from the Whitehall II cohort study.” PLoS One. 2012;7(10):e47292.

Alanna Morris, et al. “Abstract 17806: Sleep Quality and Duration are Associated with Higher Levels of Inflammatory Biomarkers: the META-Health Study.” Circulation 122: A17806

Grandner MA, et al. “Habitual sleep duration associated with self-reported and objectively determined cardiometabolic risk factors.” Sleep Med. 2014 Jan;15(1):42-50.

Grandner MA, et al. “Sleep disturbance is associated with cardiovascular and metabolic disorders.” J Sleep Res. 2012 Aug;21(4):427-33.

Lo JC, et al. “Sleep Duration and Age-Related Changes in Brain Structure and Cognitive Performance.” Sleep. 2014;37(7):1171-1178.

Spira AP, et al. “Self-reported Sleep and ß-Amyloid Deposition in Community-Dwelling Older Adults.” JAMA Neurol. 2013 Dec;70(12):1537-43.

Knutson KL, et al. “Associations between sleep loss and increased risk of obesity and diabetes.” Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2008;1129:287-304.

Taheri S, et al. “Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index.” PLoS Med. 2004 Dec;1(3):e62.

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