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Monday, July 13, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Dr. Zorba Paster: Small study shows screen time bad for sleep

By Dr. Zorba Paster For The Spokesman-Review

Do you read at night before going to sleep? Many of us do. What about watching TV? How well do you sleep? If you’re having trouble, it might be the TV.

Why? We’re not sure, but it might be that the light emitted from the TV just makes us want to wake up. Light has a tendency to do that.

Before modern electrical times, a bit more than a century ago, we were up and down based on the sun. And in those Wisconsin winters, that meant we spent nearly half our waking lives in the dark. Light by candle, using whale oil, was expensive. So as soon as light would hit our eyes, it was up and at ’em. Get to work. Time’s a wastin’.

Recent research on our latest foray into nighttime light, involving tablets and smartphones, shows just what we might have thought: that the light from these devices can interfere with sleep.

This small study involved 10 people who were put in a sleep lab for 10 nights. Five of those nights, in a row, they read whatever they wanted to read on an iPad. The other five nights, it was a book, magazine or newspaper.

For all days, researchers looked at sleep latency, how long it took the participants to go to sleep, and REM sleep – that rapid-eye-movement sleep that is so deep, something our body craves. When we don’t get that, we don’t feel rested.

The study showed that when the folks read on their electronic devices, they took longer to get to sleep, their REM sleep suffered and they didn’t feel as well-rested in the morning or as alert.

So who should be concerned about this? If you watch TV or use your computer or smartphone before bedtime and you sleep just fine, this advice is not for you. It doesn’t affect you. But if you have sleep issues, then take this to heart.

For teenagers, this is a big thing. I reported on a study last year that showed kids who use their smartphone before going to sleep suffer. They don’t fall asleep right away, they are more fitful during the night and they’re not as alert in the morning.

Teen sleep is different from adult sleep. You remember that. When I was 16, I remember sleeping easily until noon or 1 p.m. That doesn’t happen anymore. The teen brain, the developing teen brain, needs a good nine hours in bed to develop and work well.

So this advice is really for teens and parents of teens: Look at their sleep habits. Do they get enough sleep? Are they alert enough in the daytime? If they aren’t doing so well, see if their electronic media are part of the problem. If so, take action. Get them on board for a different way to prepare for beddy-bye.

Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician and host of the public radio program “Zorba Pasteron Your Health.” He can be reached at

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