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article imageBedtime reading on an eReader may keep you awake

By Robert Myles     Dec 23, 2014 in Technology
University Park - Reading on an eReader at bedtime, rather than flicking the pages of one of those old-fangled, cuboid contraptions called books, may encourage alertness, a new study has found.
Researchers at The Pennsylvania State University, led by Anne-Marie Chang, of the university’s Department of Biobehavioral Health found that using light-emitting eReaders and other electronic light before bedtime appeared to shift circadian rhythms — the human body’s daily rhythms, effectively our 24 hour body clocks — with resultant negative effects on sleep and alertness.
Come evening, the dimming of natural light provides the trigger for circadian rhythms that govern sleep patterns. As light from the sun fades, the human body starts producing the hormone melatonin, that regulates sleep.
To examine how eReaders might affect sleep patterns, as opposed to snuggling down with the printed word on good old-fashioned paper, Chang and her colleagues compared the quality of sleep achieved by a group of study participants after they’d used an eReader before bedtime then after the same group read a printed book before retiring to bed.
Over a study period lasting a fortnight, the 12 reading volunteers first read for four hours on an eReading device over five consecutive days, in dim light, before bedtime. They also read a printed book in similar background lighting conditions, again for the same daily period over five consecutive days.
In the case of the eReading sessions, volunteers experienced reduced evening drowsiness and took longer to fall asleep. They also felt sleepier the morning after, reporting reduced morning wakefulness when their evening reading was done on an eReader.
When participants used an eReader for their evening fix of fiction, they showed signs of suppressed melatonin levels with a consequential shift in their circadian sleep/wake rhythms. That then impacted on the time they took to nod off and their alertness the following morning.
eReading volunteers took almost 10 minutes longer to fall asleep. They also experienced significantly less REM — rapid eye movement — sleep after reading from a light-emitting e-reader than they did after reading from a print book.
Given the study’s results, its authors suggest the common use of eReaders and other light-emitting electronic devices may influence alertness and health.
Details of the study were published, Dec. 22, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, under the title, “Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness.”
Commentary
Speaking from a personal standpoint, I’ve often found that using an eReader at bedtime has quite the opposite effect from the study's results — on the eReader, that is. Invariably the battery on my eReader dies well before the sandman decides to show face.
Printed books, on the other hand, appear to me to have far more stamina, even the ability to stay awake all night. Often, I’ll wake in the morning only to find the book I was reading the night before still open at the same page.
More about Ereader, Ereaders, reading at bedtime, aids to sleep, Sleep
 
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