Does this scene sound familiar to anyone else? You climb into bed, pick up your phone to do one quick thing – say write a reminder on your calendar for the next day — and find yourself scrolling Facebook, composing an email or cleaning out your phone’s photo library an hour later. Or maybe you like to watch Netflix or read an e-book to fall asleep. More and more of us (in fact, according to this study by the National Sleep Foundation, 95% of us!) use our smartphones or tablets before bed, but a new study sheds light on why we may want reach for a good book instead – especially those wanting to get pregnant later in life.
We all know how sleep is important for good health and thus fertility, and maybe we know that artificial light doesn’t promote sleep, but a new study published in Cell Reports draws a new connection between artificial light and infertility.
Your body’s circadian rhythm regulates all sorts of physiological functions — digestion, hormone production, cell repair just to name a few — in a 24-hour cycle of light and dark. Scientists have been learning for years how the disruption of this cycle (by adding artificial light when our bodies think it should be dark) contributes to all sorts of health problems, including cancer and diabetes, as laid out in this recent Wired article.
The Cell Reports study referred to above suggests a new link between artificial light and infertility in middle-aged women. In the study, researchers from UCLA, Osaka University, and the Japan Science and Technology Agency placed female mice in intermittent shifts of light-dark cycles to see how disrupting the body clock of female mice affected their fertility. They concluded that while the younger mice’s menstrual cycles weren’t affected, those mice that were approaching menopause were affected by changes in light-dark cycles.
The study’s authors say that while further research needs to be done, there are implications for women’s fertility and sleep. As one of the study’s authors states in a recent press release:
The ability to rescue reproductive function by altering the light schedule in a rodent model suggests that improvements in ‘circadian hygiene’–for example, reductions in evening illumination, more regular meal timing, or avoiding rotating shift-work or schedules that lead to irregular sleep–may all be important remedies for reproductive difficulty.
So, if you didn’t already have enough reasons put away your phone or tablet before bedtime, if you think you might want to get pregnant sometime, you might want to leave your phone or tablet outside the bedroom altogether.
Of course, smartphones and tablets aren’t the only sources of light that disrupt your circadian rhythm. Anything that gives out more “blue light” from the spectrum in the evening hours is more disruptive to your circadian rhythm. This includes smartphones, tablets, computer screens, TVs, and even LED and CFL light bulbs. How in the world do I avoid all of these, you ask?
We have a few suggestions to keep your circadian rhythm running smoothly:
- Turn off as many lights in your house after dinner as is practical, and avoid screen-time for a couple hours before bed. If this is a major leap, try instituting an “old school” night once a week with dinner by candlelight, followed up by board games and story-telling or reading books.
- If you can’t avoid screens completely in the evening hours, here are some tricks:
- Download an app for your phone, tablet and computer that adjusts blue light according to the time of day, such as f.lux
- Purchase some amber-tinted glasses that block out blue light. See Can Orange Glasses Help You Sleep Better?, a recent New York Times post. Bonus: you will look super cool.
- The further away from the eyes, the better, and the shorter amount of time, the better.
- Make your room as dark as possible. Try black-out curtains and even an “old-fashioned” alarm clock that doesn’t have the lit-up numbers.
- Get acupuncture! Acupuncture has been shown to help insomnia, according to this review in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
In addition to reducing the effects of a disrupted circadian rhythm and improving fertility, these tips should help you sleep better and help you wake up feeling rested – it’s a win-win! Feel free to share your own tips in the comments!
Sweet dreams from Collaborative Care…..