Category Archives: Technology

“Is Anyone Even Listening?” Can Journalism Make a Difference to Public Opinion?

Newspapers

Flickr @Mick Baker(rooster)

How do journalists gauge the impact of their work?  More importantly, does their work have a positive impact on people’s perceptions of important societal issues such as climate change? Well people have to read the article for a start but let’s assume people do move past the title for now. You can look at comments, page views, discussions on a topic to assess a given article’s impact. However, it is very hard to say whether an article, or group of articles, were responsible for those changes observed. This is where an interesting new study by Dr Gary King at the University of Harvard comes in. Published in Science, the study attempted something rather impressive: a randomised controlled trial of journalism.

Randomised controlled trials (or RCTs) are typically run in medicine to ascertain whether a particular treatment has an effect on a studied illness. They have the advantage of being less biased than if researchers were to assign people to either the treatment or control group based on a whim. The randomisation process reduces the impact the experimenter, or clinician, may have on the efficacy of the treatment in question. This is exactly the approach this study took to understand whether writing on one of 11 key policy topics (race, climate, abortion, etc.) stimulated conversations on these topics. However, instead of a treatment they looked at whether the impact of writing an article on a societal issue (treatment) could lead to an increase in conversations about this topic on social media.

The researchers recruited 48 media outlets, of generally small size, to take part in their study to assess the impact of journalism on public conversations. To deal with journalists trying to ‘scoop’ one another and get the best story out there the quickest they used a process known as pack journalism. This also had the advantage of maximising the chance people would be speaking about their policy area on social media. Pack journalism is where multiple media outlets will collaborate and share sources and even quotes to ensure a story is reported and, importantly for political stories, reported in the same way. This is the approach the experimenters took, and they organised their recruited media outlets into packs of 2-5.  Each ‘pack’ wrote about the same policy area that was assigned based on their expertise and confidence in the chosen area.

The researchers then took two consecutively quiet news weeks. They randomised each pack to write about the specific policy area on one week and to produce their normal content on the other. This allowed the researchers to compare Twitter activity surrounding the chosen policy area (e.g. climate change) on both weeks. This was not a quick experiment to set up. As the authors state in the paper, it took almost five years to source, organise and oversee the news outlets involved.

When all packs had been randomised and completed their two-week experiment, the researchers assessed the number of Twitter posts across the two weeks. This, broadly speaking, allowed them to assess the impact of the policy-relevant article. Upon examining all of the packs together, it was found that in the first day after publication of the policy article the number of Twitter posts on this area increased by about 20% compared to the control condition. Over the course of the following week the increase in posts on the policy area was just over 10%. These effects are not big but, unlike previous estimates of the impact of journalism, we can be more convinced by their providence. It’s important to note that the media outlets included were small. Therefore, it shouldn’t be too surprising that the effects on Twitter would also be small as presumably these outlets have limited impact on global conversations. It’s also important to note that particularly quiet news weeks were chosen and, although this was practical, it likely influenced the effect.

To assess what the impact of a heavy-hitting media outlet, the researchers examined the change in Twitter posting following a story by the New York Times about fracking influencing drinking water. In this instance, although considerably less controlled, they found that the first day following the article publication, there was a 300% increase in Twitter posts concerning water quality and related topics. This suggests that with larger institutions the impact would be more impressive.

One question you may still be asking is whether this ‘intervention’ had an impact on people’s opinions. When the researchers compared the views expressed when the article was published, compared to service as usual, they found that there was a 2.3% shift in opinions to those expressed in the article. Now this is tiny, but it would be interesting to see whether larger effects could be found in heavy-hitting media outlets. Whether such a study is even possible remains to be seen.

The most exciting thing about this study is that it was possible to carry out an experimental, and relatively well-controlled, study to assess the impact of media reporting on social media conversations. The effects were small, and it was far from perfect (although impressive given how difficult it must have been to set-up), but it was an excellent proof of concept. Personally, science journalism can feel like it is speaking out to the converted but if research can validate that such articles are getting people talking, discussing, and (heaven forbid) changing their opinions on key area such as climate science then I’m sure many journalists would sleep much sounder.

Hey, look at that, I did manage to fit sleep into this article. Go me!

Inquisitive Tortoise

Image Credits:

Header Image

Reference:

King, G., Schneer, B., & White, A. (2017). How the news media activate public expression and influence national agendas. Science, 358(6364), 776-780.

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under General Interest, Journalism, Media, Politics, Technology

Biphasic Sleep: Should we stop sleeping in a single, uninterrupted, block?

 

Cats asleep pic

“What’s the right amount of sleep I need? Should I be drinking cherry juice to sleep better? Why do you keep ignoring my voicemails?”

In the absence of being asked about dreams, people are generally keen to hear my views on how to get the best sleep possible. I think this is a fair question to ask a sleep scientist. I’m less convinced that you’ll get an accurate answer from a mattress salesman – but maybe that’s just me. A normal night’s sleep typically involves a single block from the moment our heads hit the pillow to when we feel our way towards our phone alarm in the morning. The number of hours sleep will vary but this will probably be somewhere between 7 to 9 hours (it may be slightly more or less than this). Hopefully, you’ll also feel fairly refreshed after waking up. Many of us still feel tired the following day for a myriad of reasons and will seek some solution for how to feel more energetic, creative and productive. One sleep buzzword which has attracted many such sleep perfectionists is ‘biphasic sleep’ and it involves splitting up our usual undisturbed bout of sleep.

For some people, sleep is experienced as two (or more) bouts of slumber throughout a night. For these biphasic sleepers, they will enjoy an initial sleep followed by a period of wakefulness and then finish off the night with their second sleep. Unlike those of us who restlessly wake up in the middle of the night and feel awful the following day, biphasic sleepers feel fully refreshed with their fragmented pattern. Some natural biphasic sleepers can even mistake their wakefulness for insomnia and this can cause its own problems.

There is some evidence that biphasic sleep is everyone’s normal sleep patterns but artificial lighting has forced us to sleep in one undisturbed bout. However, the scientific evidence to back this up has been somewhat sluggish. It wasn’t until late into the 20th century that our capacity for a biphasic sleep schedule was brought to light.

In the early 1990s, the psychiatrist Thomas Wehr showed that individuals under strict lighting conditions shifted from a single block of sleep to sleeping in a more segmented fashion. In his sample of eight healthy white men, Wehr had them spend 4 weeks under ‘winter’ lighting conditions whereby they had 10 hours of light a day. Then, as a comparison condition, the participants were exposed to 16 hours light and 8 hours dark to broadly mimic summer lighting for a single week. Under summer lighting conditions, the participants slept in one single block and appeared to be largely consistent in their sleeping patterns. However, when they were required to spend a month in the winter lighting pattern, they showed fragmented sleep that was typically, but not always, split in two or more segments (e.g. biphasic). This suggests that provided the period of darkness is long enough, such as experienced during the winter months, then the sleep period will start to be split up over a typical night. As a result, advocates of biphasic sleep as the optimum sleep schedule frequently quote this study as concrete evidence for their point of view.

It’s important to note a few things about this commonly referenced study. In the ‘winter’ condition, participants were told they could do not do anything active during the dark periods (e.g. listen to music or exercise). They were not allowed to use artificial lighting and were encouraged to rest during the dark period. This didn’t leave much choice but to sleep during this 14-hour window. Therefore, biphasic sleep might be seen because the participants had nothing better to do than go back to sleep if it was still dark upon awakening.

This was the same conclusion put forward by a study published in 2015 which also argued that a switch to biphasic sleep may simply be a result of long winter nights. Not everyone agrees so readily with this interpretation. However, until more convincing research is forthcoming it looks like we shouldn’t be trying to wake ourselves up at 2am every morning for that mid-sleep conference call. There is no evidence (as always please try to prove me wrong) that splitting your sleep into two segments is better than sleeping in a single block. Current advocates of biphasic sleep tend to singularly use Wehr’s study as evidence for their points without acknowledging the caveats to his study.

So, that still leaves the question remaining why some groups are advocating splitting up your sleep into small segments if the evidence is lacking. Well, besides our obsession with being told exactly how much of everything (e.g. fruit, water, sleep, fun) we are supposed to have there is a common theme to those keen to split up their sleep – they want to sleep less. Madness, I know.

Terms such as biphasic and polyphasic are frequently kidnapped against their will to lend legitimacy to schedules such as Everyman and Uberman schedules. These sleep schedules aim to break the day into small naps so that people can work unhindered by something as trivial as sleep. To put this into context, the Uberman schedule involves sleeping no more than 2 hours broken neatly up into 6 separate 20-minute naps – sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Well… By contrast, the Everyman schedule allows you 3 hours of sleep followed by 3 naps of 20 minutes throughout the day. So, you get a whole 4 hours sleep with this approach. I will save why these schedules are ridiculous for another post, but I’ve included them to illustrate that interest in segmenting the night’s sleep overlaps considerably with ‘hacking’ the numbers of hours of sleep we need in a day.

As I’ve hopefully make clear so far, sleep is important – all of it. Hacking your sleep will leave you exhausted and at an increased risk for multiple physical and mental illnesses. If you’re interested in feeling more energetic, perhaps think about whether sleep really is the culprit. Alternatively, maybe stop reading these blog posts at 2am and sleep. Actually, on second thoughts…

Inquisitive Tortoise

Image Credits

Header

References

WEHR, T. A. (1991). The durations of human melatonin secretion and sleep respond to changes in daylength (photoperiod). The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism73(6), 1276-1280.

Ekirch, A. R. (2016). Segmented sleep in preindustrial societies. Sleep29 (3), 715-716.

Yetish, G., Kaplan, H., Gurven, M., Wood, B., Pontzer, H., Manger, P. R., … & Siegel, J. M. (2015). Natural sleep and its seasonal variations in three pre-industrial societies. Current Biology25(21), 2862-2868.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Psychology, Sleep Science, Technology, Work and Society

Why we should be logging off from social media well before bedtime

Social media pic.jpg

Photo @BrickinNick

So I am trying to experiment with shorter style articles a little bit. For those lovely people out there reading this, any feedback you have on this short pieces would be much loved! 

It is a fact universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a smartphone must be in want of all of the notifications. I think that’s how that saying goes anyway…

It should come as no surprise that social media use is far from ideal for our mental health. It is an addictive and impulsive activity which can leave us constantly checking for any activity on our posts or feeds. It’s also a force for good but there is the need to understand where its use becomes pathological. For example, a study (poll) published earlier this year linked the usage of social media platforms such as Instagram to poorer mental health outcomes. It would be unfair to claim that social media can solely be blamed for mental health difficulties facing adolescents, but it is equally naïve to suggest it plays no part. How does sleep come into this equation then? Well, besides the sleep-interfering influence of the blue light emitted from devices to browse social media, it appears its usage can mess with our ability to drift off peacefully at night.

A recent study published last month by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh addressed this exact question: is social media usage before bed predictive of disturbed sleep? More specifically, they examined whether habitual social media usage in the 30 minutes before bed would interfere with the sleep of a large sample of American participants (n=1736). The researchers asked participants to report on their level of sleep disturbance over the 7 days and based on this they were identified as either having low, medium or high sleep disturbance. The participants’ social media usage before bed was rated as: rarely or very rarely, sometimes, often or very often. This was asked in respect to the past year.

So, what did the researchers find? Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, they found that social media usage 30 minutes prior to bed was predictive of poorer sleep. This was still the case when overall social media usage was controlled for which suggests that targeting social media usage before bed might be a useful strategy to improve sleep in habitual users. Interestingly, this research supports a well conducted study published last year in the Journal of Adolescence which also corroborates the role of night-time social media use on sleep quality.

However, why do we need to be careful about these findings? Well there are a number of issues I can think of which take away from this study. For example, a validated measure of sleep loss would have been more informative than the broad categories used to identify sleep disturbance in this study. Admittedly, the authors do highlight this in the discussion section of the paper too. Furthermore, the use of social media usage before bed in the last year is something which I imagine would fluctuate considerably. To me, it makes more sense to ask about social media usage in the past week if your sleep measure is concerned with this time-frame too. The best way to do this would be to track social media usage and sleep daily. You could not say that one causes the other with this approach but it would be more informative. Finally, it is unclear from this study whether social media usage before bed was responsible for the sleep disturbance. Poor sleep could be responsible for the increased social media use before bed or there might be some other variable entirely which explains both increased social media usage before bed and the disturbed sleep.

Of course, this work should not be surprising to any one of us and it makes reasoned sense that using a device just before bed is likely to interrupt with your ability to sleep properly. I think the merit of this paper is that it reminds us that perhaps a blanket ban on social media is not needed. If social media usage can be curtailed when we should be doing more important things (e.g. sleeping) then perhaps this can start to reduce the negative impact it has on our mental health. As with all research this is just a tiny part of a much bigger picture but it is an issue which will only increase – not decrease any time soon.

Until that future research is forthcoming, avoid endlessly scrolling for likes before bed if you want to be on peak witty tweet form the next day. Or, you know, you just want to feel less tired. Either is fine.

Inquisitive Tortoise

References

Levenson, J. C., Shensa, A., Sidani, J. E., Colditz, J. B., & Primack, B. A. (2017). Social Media Use Before Bed and Sleep Disturbance Among Young Adults in the United States: A Nationally Representative Study. Sleep, zsx113.

Woods, H. C., & Scott, H. (2016). # Sleepyteens: social media use in adolescence is associated with poor sleep quality, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Journal of adolescence51, 41-49.

Image Credits

Header

Leave a comment

Filed under General Interest, Media, Sleep Science, Technology

Trauma, Tetris and Memory: A Cheap Way to Reduce the Impact of Intrusive Memories

Body Image

What if I was to tell you that playing video games can be good for you? That despite derision and their use in political point scoring, games such as Tetris and Candy Crush could one day be used to help people deal with traumatic events in their lives? You might be initially sceptical but there is growing evidence to support this. Although not a new idea, Tetris has been shown to be useful in reducing the uncontrollable intrusions associated with a traumatic experience.

So, how can we use a video game such as Tetris to interfere with traumatic memories? Well, in much the same way that you would interfere with any memory. As you create a new memory and have converted all the constituent parts into a form which the brain can understand, it goes through a period of consolidation. That is where the memory is stored within your brain so you are able to recall it at a later point. Now if we interfere with the memory during this period of consolidation it is less likely that we will recall said memory. For example, if we can provide some competition for the neural real estate the original memory is vying for then we can weaken the strength of that original memory. It seems to be important that the type of memory is relatively specific and needs to match the original memory’s modality (e.g. a visual-spatial task needs another visual-spatial task to compete with it effectively). This is essentially where Tetris comes in. The authors argued that if both the trauma memory and Tetris rely on the same visual-spatial resources then you can reduce the intrusiveness of the initial trauma memory.

This is exactly what Emily Holmes at the University of Oxford and her collaborators found in studies conducted over the past eight years. If you ask a participant to play Tetris 30 minutes after a lab-controlled trauma induction you can reduce the impact of the traumatic memory compared to a control condition. These early studies showed that, at least in the lab, you could interfere with traumatic memories in a therapeutic way by reducing their intrusive nature. Although they were not carried out in a naturalistic setting they provided evidence that the proposed mechanism existed and could be manipulated. It is also key to keep in mind that this study showed that playing Tetris reduced specifically the intrusiveness of the traumatic memories and not the deliberate recall memory for the event. As the uncontrollable nature of the traumatic memory is a source of considerable distress in PTSD it is important that any intervention can have a targeted effect. What about evidence for the use of Tetris to deal with naturally occurring trauma outside of the lab? This is where their latest study, published in Molecular Psychiatry, last week comes into play (it’s open access so you can read the full article yourself here).

In a small-scale naturalistic study in Oxford, Emily Holmes, and colleagues at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, examined individuals in A&E who had recently (within 6 hours) experienced a motor accident as a driver, passenger or pedestrian.  They randomised 71 eligible participants to either an intervention or control condition to test the real-life application of their previous findings. In the intervention condition, participants were asked to recall the traumatic event initially and to then spend at least 10 minutes (maximum 20 minutes) playing Tetris. By contrast, the control condition asked participants to write down all the activities they carried out during their time in A&E (e.g. completing a crossword, speaking to a friend, etc.). Participants were assessed at one week and one month following either the control or intervention task. During the initial week participants were required to complete a daily diary of the number of intrusive memories they experienced which were related to the trauma (e.g. motor accident). The participants were instructed not to report “memories recalled deliberately or general verbal thoughts”. The number of intrusions provided a primary way to assess the success of the use of the intervention (memory cue and Tetris).

Header Image

So, what did the researchers find? Primarily, they showed that the use of Tetris and memory recall was an effective intervention. The number of intrusions was significantly reduced in the intervention group after one week (9 intrusions on average) compared to the control condition (23 intrusions on average). Furthermore, they also found that the intervention group also reported significantly less distress after one week. However, this reduction in distress did not remain when participants were followed up after one month. To supplement this data, the authors also asked the participants about their subjective experience of using the intervention. Their reports were positive and it was apparent that they appreciated the distraction from the accident which playing Tetris offered. One participant highlighted this clearly with, “it certainly took my mind off of it at a time when I probably would have sat brooding and feeling very sorry for myself…”. Another participant, who had not played Tetris before, was keen to keep playing it following the allotted 20 minutes. The intervention thus proved to be both feasible and acceptable.

Together, these findings support the usefulness and viability of using Tetris to combat intrusive traumatic memories in a real-life setting. The reduction in the number of intrusions following a natural traumatic event (e.g. motor accident) supports the intervention and suggests it could be a low-cost, easy to administer, therapy. As the authors highlight in the paper, waiting times in A&E can be as long as 4 hours and this would be an ideal time to target individuals who have experienced a traumatic accident. As a well-tolerated, and simple, intervention it seems ideal. However, this study is simply the beginning of translating Tetris, or similar aproaches, into the realms of clinical practice. Although this trial did not show an effect on distress at a one month follow-up, a larger trial may be better suited to pick out subtle effects for longer periods of time. Furthermore, additional doses of the intervention may also prove effective as a ‘booster’ to the initial dose. As any good piece of research, this trial raises more questions and exciting avenues for further study.

Alongside the compelling results, why should we be so excited about this research? It provides clear evidence that marrying cognitive neuroscience and clinical practice are vital for progress in both fields. It is still early days for this collaborative approach but hopefully this soon blossoms into a powerful and fruitful relationship. Basic science studies can be blamed for being too distant from the disorders and clinical fields they are trying to unpick and affect. However, with a greater understanding of the mechanisms at work behind mental distress we can develop novel therapies, like the use of Tetris, to target them and help real people. Personally, that is one of the amazing things about research and one of the reasons why I fell in love with science in the first place. More work is needed to validate these findings but, at least for the time being, they provide you with a great retort to anyone who claims video games are good for nothing. To quote Emily Holmes’ original Tetris paper in 2009, “…clearly not all computer games are bad for you.”

ResearchBlogging.org

Iyadurai, L., Blackwell, S., Meiser-Stedman, R., Watson, P., Bonsall, M., Geddes, J., Nobre, A., & Holmes, E. (2017). Preventing intrusive memories after trauma via a brief intervention involving Tetris computer game play in the emergency department: a proof-of-concept randomized controlled trial Molecular Psychiatry DOI: 10.1038/mp.2017.23

Additional References:

Holmes, E. A., James, E. L., Coode-Bate, T., & Deeprose, C. (2009). Can playing the computer game “Tetris” reduce the build-up of flashbacks for trauma? A proposal from cognitive science. PloS one, 4(1), e4153.
Chicago

Image Credits:

Tetris (Header)

Tetris Building (Body)

Leave a comment

Filed under Memory, Psychology, Technology, Trauma, Work and Society

How Might Escaping Technology Help Improve Our Sleep Problems?

Won_t_somebody_please_think_of_the_children.gif

“Won’t someone please think of the children?!”

Besides infancy, we don’t initially think of sleep as a big problem in childhood. Yet, a slew of recent articles have highlighted that insomnia and other sleep problems are not simply an issue of adulthood. A BBC Panorama documentary released last week commented on the surge in problems with sleep in children. Although there were a number of culprits identified for this increase in the problems with children’s sleep, one key point was technology and later exposure to artificial light.

We are all glued to our smartphones, laptops, and Fitbits. Modern artificial lighting allows us to work and entertain ourselves further into the night than natural light permits but the normality surrounding their use before bed is negatively influencing sleep. As people are educated more about the effects of technology on sleep, these issues should hopefully reduce but whether education can effect this change is uncertain. The question remains: How can we improve sleep without dragging people away from technology? One love-it or hate-it option may be camping.

Last month, a research group led by Kenneth Wright carried out two studies which examined how artificial light interferes with our natural sleep rhythms and our body’s concept of day and night. Study one assessed the sleep of participants firstly during artificial lighting and then natural lighting during the winter. The second study attempted to understand the impact of weekend camping on sleep. The researchers studied sleep by asking them to wear a watch to track movements and by tracking changes in a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin is released prior to sleep, reaches a midpoint during the first half of sleep and dips as you wake up. During the day, it is only detectable at trace levels because in the presence of light melatonin’s production is inhibited. This, in part, explains why we feel tired and want to go to bed at night rather than during the day. As a result, melatonin serves as a useful and precise marker of the internal biological night (i.e. when the body feels we should be sleeping).

The first study had participants spend a week, during winter, camping with no artificial light (e.g. torches or phones) and then a week in their normal, modern, environment which served as a baseline. Participants’ melatonin levels were measured during sleep after about 6 days of the modern environment and after 6 days of the natural light, camping, condition.

This initial study found that the internal biological night (e.g. melatonin onset, midpoint, and offset) is affected by seasonal fluctuations. Specifically, internal biological night is longer during winter and shorter during the summer. In the camping condition, melatonin onset and sleep onset were around 2 hours earlier compared to the modern, artificially lit, condition. However, melatonin offset and sleep offset were similar between camping and baseline. When comparing the winter data to previously collected summer data, the melatonin onset was earlier and melatonin offset was significantly later in the winter condition. More specifically, they showed a four-hour difference in internal biological night between winter and summer. However, there were no change in internal biological night between summer and winter offset when comparing the artificial light conditions. The modern, artificially lit, environment had extinguished the seasonal fluctuations in melatonin and sleep patterns.

The second study then went on to assess whether weekend exposure to natural light (i.e. camping) could help reduce the effects of social jet lag – the mismatch between the time you wake up during the weekday and weekend. We tend to delay our sleep during the weekend and this contributes to why it is so hard to wake up on a Monday morning. In this study, fourteen participants were first tested in their normal, artificially lit, environment and their melatonin levels during the night (onset, midpoint and offset) were assessed. Participants were then separated to a camping condition (n=9; natural light) or normal condition (n=5; artificial light).

What did they find? For the camping condition, the time at which participants went to sleep and woke up were similar between weekday and weekend. However, for the artificial light condition the onset of sleep was found to be delayed by almost 2 hours and participants woke up around an hour and a half later during the weekend compared to the weekday. People were staying up later and waking up later during the weekend presumably when they didn’t have work. Overall sleep duration and efficiency were similar across and within both groups. So, participants were not sleeping for longer under artificial light but were delaying their sleep schedule.

What about the data for internal biological night? In the camping condition, melatonin onset and midpoint were about an hour earlier during the weekend compared to weekday despite there being no changes in sleep timing. Interestingly, changes in melatonin were not only seen in the camping condition but also the modern setting. Melatonin onset, midpoint and offset were delayed by about an hour compared to the weekday for the modern, artificial light, condition. This is problematic if you have to get up earlier on the Monday morning for work and is linked to what we know as social jet lag. If you feel sleepier later and want to wake up later then you may find yourself being groggy and sleep deprived during the week.

Yet, when participants went camping over the weekend, they did not see a shift in their sleep onset or offset, and their biological night became advanced (started earlier) slightly. This suggests that weekend exposure to natural light (e.g. camping) may help diminish the negative effects of living in the current, high-paced, environment we currently have. The small sample size and short sampling period makes it hard to draw definite conclusions from this study but it does highlight that artificial lighting is having a definable impact on our sleep and the biochemistry underpinning it. It also provides some preliminary evidence of the biological impact of social jet lag.

You may, quite rightly, think that the results of this study are rather obvious: we stay up later during the weekend and our biology is going to follow suit unless we hike out to the middle of nowhere for the weekend. However, it highlighted the biological impact of our modern, well-lit, environment on our body’s internal clock. We know that using our devices before bed are generally bad for sleep but very few of us actually do anything about this. We may try to adopt better bedtime habits but this may be thwarted by technology (e.g. using a kindle to read just before bed)

Also, it is key to remember that light is not the only regulator of our sleep rhythms and in societies not exposed to artificial light the key determinant of the sleep cycle is temperature. This should make us think about not a single factor (i.e. light) but a multitude of issues may cause issues with our sleep. Interestingly, such individuals in cultures not exposed to artificial light also reported problems with insomnia but at a reduced rate than reported in modern society.

Nonetheless, light from devices, rich in low-wavelength blue-light, resets our biological clocks and inhibits the release of melatonin. As a result, we feel sleepier later even though we still have to get up at the same time and go to school, college or work. The recurrent sleep deprivation can in turn lower our mood, concentration and put us at increased risk of illness and metabolic disorders. Now, it is unlikely that the rise of childhood sleep problems can be fixed by wrenching tablets from children and throwing them out into the wilderness every Friday until Sunday. Nonetheless, we can think about what these devices are doing to our sleep – at the very least when we’re sleeping poorly to begin with.

Inquisitive Tortoise

 

ResearchBlogging.orgStothard ER, McHill AW, Depner CM, Birks BR, Moehlman TM, Ritchie HK, Guzzetti JR, Chinoy ED, LeBourgeois MK, Axelsson J, & Wright KP Jr (2017). Circadian Entrainment to the Natural Light-Dark Cycle across Seasons and the Weekend. Current biology : CB, 27 (4), 508-513 PMID: 28162893

 

Additional References:

Chang, A. M., Aeschbach, D., Duffy, J. F., & Czeisler, C. A. (2015). Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(4), 1232-1237.

Yetish, G., Kaplan, H., Gurven, M., Wood, B., Pontzer, H., Manger, P. R., … & Siegel, J. M. (2015). Natural sleep and its seasonal variations in three pre-industrial societies. Current Biology, 25(21), 2862-2868.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Sleep Science, Technology, Work and Society