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The Benefits of a Technology-Free Wind-Down Routine

Technology has biological effects on our health, especially at night.

Source: bigstock/lovelyday12

A wind-down routine at the end of the day has become increasingly important for many of us in the past decade. The key is to make this time free of technology, the gadgets we’ve become used to and depend on to connect with the world and entertain ourselves.

Our lives can be very hectic. Many of us feel pulled in different directions and resort to multi-tasking and technology to help us keep up and stay in touch with others. Sometimes, this is helpful and frees us up for time with family and friends, the moments that really count. But other times, this can interfere and be addictive without our realizing it and we find ourselves tied to our smartphones, iPads, and laptops at all hours. This extends the commotion of the day, long beyond what we’d like.

Winding down from our day is important to help us relax and initiate sleep. It’s a process where we intentionally put aside the events and worries from the day so they don’t get in the way of our having a restful night, something that’s essential to optimal brain restoration and functioning, memory, and learning. People have many ways of winding down, beginning with creating a quiet, serene atmosphere, listening to soothing music, taking a warm bath 1-2 hours before bedtime, relaxation or meditation exercises to de-stress, or perhaps doing some light reading for a while. This minimizes stimulation. It’s all individual taste, based on personal preference.

Yet we’re mistaken if we believe that television and computerized screens from electronic devices and smartphones can accomplish the same thing. It’s tempting to use them–they make our lives more efficient, they’re entertaining, and there are many clever apps that draw us in. The problem at bedtime is that they emit blue wavelength light, which is a specific wavelength range of light within the spectrum of light that has a biologic effect on our brains.

Exposure to blue wavelength light has a powerful effect on suppressing (decreasing) the natural amount of melatonin in our bodies, even though the light intensity of these devices is low. Melatonin is a hormone (or biologically active substance) made by the pineal gland in our brain that controls when it’s time to fall asleep and wake up. The amount of melatonin secreted depends on our exposure to light. Melatonin goes up and down in a cyclic pattern over each 24-hour period, with more melatonin produced when we’re in a dark environment, less when we’re in daylight. Higher levels of melatonin cause us to fall asleep. Interfering with the natural cycle of melatonin production by using blue light-emitting devices interferes with our ability to fall asleep and our overall sleep patterns.

It's not always the best idea to use these electronic devices at the end of our day, in the last hour or so before bedtime when we need to wind down. It can be hard to do and break this habit. One suggestion that works for me and many others is to use the old pen and paper method to write things down and remind yourself of things to do tomorrow. That way, those little things are out of your mind and you don’t have to think or worry about them as you’re drifting off to sleep. I encourage you to pay attention to this time of day as you wind down and try the other effective methods mentioned above. It could be a New Year’s resolution that you can do realistically!

Stay well!