Studies Suggest Use of iDevices at Night Harmful to Health

Did you just score a new iPhone or iPad over the holidays? Well, not to rain on your parade, but evidence continues to mount that these devices aren't quite as safe for us as you might think. Don't get me wrong, I love my iPhone and my iPad, but they are a double-edged sword. Previously I've written about the potentially dangerous side-effects of harmful EMFs that these pocket-sized microwaves emit. I've also written about steps that those concerned about the effects of constant low-level radiation exposure can take to mitigate these effects. Now new scientific studies are again calling into question the safety of these devices, which for many of us, are practically an extension of our body.

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This time it's not the electromagnetic frequencies that are being questioned, but rather, the disruptive effects on our bodies of the blue spectrum light these devices give off; a topic especially relevant for those of us who keep our iDevices handy through the night.

The awareness within the scientific community of the detrimental effects of being exposed to electric light at night is certainly nothing new. Going back to a 2012 Harvard study, it was determined that the same super bright and extremely hot blue spectrum light that enables us to see our iDevice's brilliant, high-resolution screens also significantly disrupts our sleep patterns and melatonin production. The evidence presented in the 2012 Harvard study, and more recently, the evidence presented in a 2014 study conducted by the National Academy of Science, confirm the sad truth that our continual exposure to our iDevice's display can have a serious downside.

In September 2014, the National Academy of Science issued the following statement: "We found that the use of these devices before bedtime prolongs the time it takes to fall asleep, delays the circadian clock, suppresses levels of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, reduces the amount and delays the timing of REM sleep, and reduces alertness the following morning. Use of light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime also increases alertness at that time, which may lead users to delay bedtime at home. Overall, we found that the use of portable light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime has biological effects that may perpetuate sleep deficiency and disrupt circadian rhythms, both of which can have adverse impacts on performance, health, and safety."

Understanding the Risks

While the research on the effects of exposure to smartphones during the nighttime hours is still in its infancy, there are some basics that we do know.

  • Exposure to what scientists call the short-wavelength-enriched light of our iPhones and iPads is most detrimental during the last few hours of waking. If you (like me) have a tendency to grab for your iDevice late at night after the kids are asleep, or in the wee hours of the morning, it would seem you are only making matters worse. Our bodies natural circadian rhythms are thrown off most when we use our iDevices at night, when really, according to these studies, we should be trying to rest and rejuvenate or systems through sleep.
  • Exposure to this short-wave, blue-spectrum light can significantly suppress melatonin production, which has been tied to incidences of diabetes, vision impairment, cancer, lupus, and obesity, as well as Attention Deficit Disorder and generally lowered immunity.
  • Use of special blue light filtering glasses and transparent screen protecters, which reduce the amount of blue spectrum light that makes it into our eyes and subsequently our brains, can be helpful for those of us who can't help but be exposed to such light at night.
  • The drawbacks of exposure to light at night goes across the board, it's not just about our iPhones. Televisions, energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs, and e-Readers (like the Kindle) are also culprits when it comes to emitting disruptive light frequencies.

While it may not be the best thing for our natural circadian cycles to sleep with the TV on or even the bedroom light on, the blue spectrum light that our iDevices emit in particular seems to be particularly suspect and even dangerous, especially considering the close proximity these devices are held to our faces. As time goes by, one can't help but wonder; will our beloved iDevices, which seem so indispensable and so convenient, be revealed as greater and greater obstacles to our living a healthy life? An interesting point made by Doctor Richard Hansler, whose research I was reviewing in preparation for this article, was that the blue light emissions from these devices may not change for the better anytime soon. Hansler was pessimistic, observing that changing the amount of blue light would be tantamount to admitting that these screens are actually connected to health problems, and as you might imagine, lawsuits could, and quite likely would ensue. 

For more on this topic I'd encourage anyone interested to read this excellent and thorough article over at Gigaom by Elizabeth Armstrong Moore, which delves deeper into the science and case studies behind the relatively new threat to our well-being that blue light LEDs present. I've also included a short video, featuring Dr. Hansler, in which he talks briefly about the problems of using light at night and offers an optional solution.

Top image credit: Rommel Canlas / Shutterstock.com

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Dig Om's picture

As Senior Gear Editor at iPhone Life, Dig reports on the latest and greatest accessories built for the iOS ecosystem. From rugged gear and Bluetooth speakers, to headphones, unique iDevice cases, and iOS remote controlled vehicles, Dig's articles cover a wide range of great gear for the iPhone and iPad. A core gamer for over three decades, Dig also writes iPhone Life's Game Centered column, which focuses on the best iOS games and game related news. Additionally, Dig's company, iDoc Tech Support, offers web design and administration services as well as iPhone and iPad repairs. When not at his work desk, Dig loves spending time with family and enjoying the wonders of nature. You can follow him on Twitter @idoctech