Reading before bed is a great way to unwind before you sleep. Unless you're using a tablet, in which case, you could be setting yourself up for a restless night, according to research published in the journal PNAS.
The researchers found that reading for four hours before sleep led readers using tablets to experience reduced evening drowsiness, a longer time falling asleep, and less wakefulness in the morning compared to those who read printed books.
Light-emitting e-readers and other bright electronics before bed can mess up your circadian rhythm because the light cues your brain that it's still day. Dim lighting, on the other hand, tells your brain to produce melatonin and start powering down for sleep.
"Defining a healthy sleep environment for your family is important," says Janell Burley Hofmann, author of iRules. "For our family, the cure is to turn the devices off for the night at least an hour before bed."
While it's easy to point fingers at the youngest tech-users, Hofmann admits that everyone needs smart powering-down practices before sleep. "When I was writing and researching my book, I was chronically using my computer, iPad, and smartphone (ironic, right?) to gather information, watch documentaries, converse with people, and read." She found that this increased connectivity with technology resulted in more restless nights, disrupted sleep, and groggy mornings for her.
"So I enforced the same rule for myself that I have for my kiddos," she says. "I started turning my devices off at least an hour before I went to bed. I stopped reading e-books and looking at videos. I didn't play Boggle until I fell asleep. I just stopped the late-night tech use. And I slept more soundly when I made this small shift. I could feel my mind calm down."
If your family (or you) have a hard time abiding by her rule, check out her eight excuseproof comebacks to any argument against unplugging.
"Reading before bedtime is an activity that many people enjoy to relax, wind down from the day, and prepare for sleep" says Anne-Marie Chang, PhD, study co-author and associate neuroscientist at the Brigham and Women's Hospital. "It's important to make sure that the way in which we read does not have the opposite effect of making us more alert before sleep."
She recommends using non-light-emitting devices, and, yes, an "old-fashioned" printed book, newspaper, or magazine are non-light-emitting "devices." Other safe readers include unlit versions of the Kindle (though not the Kindle Fire) or the Nook(with the Glow turned off).
If you really just can't imagine giving up your tablet, the least you can do is turn down the brightness setting and charging it in another room so that your sleep isn't disrupted by notifications that may chirp, buzz, or ring in the night.