Archive

Fábregas: For restful night, put smartphone to sleep | TribLIVE.com
News

Fábregas: For restful night, put smartphone to sleep

A few nights ago while in bed, I opened my eyes and looked at the clock on the night stand. It was 2 a.m.

Ugh.

As much as I tried, I couldn’t go back to sleep. I kept looking at the red numbers on the clock for what seemed to be an eternity. My bedroom was dark, my pillow soft and warm, and I was tired. What could possibly be wrong? Could I be losing my ability to sleep because I’m getting older?

Much like everything else these days, I blamed my sleep troubles on getting dangerously close to 50. But when I spoke to Steven Albert, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health who studies aging, I got a wake-up call.

While half of Americans have a hard time snoozing, Albert told me the nation’s sleeping problem is increasing because we’re overly stimulated by technology. We’re just too plugged in.

“It may be getting worse, because we are in such a connected, electronic era. People can get an email at all hours; they can check their cellphones; they’ve got streaming television on all the time. There’s a lot of things going on that make sleeping a lot more challenging,” he said.

I should’ve known better. But how do you avoid checking your email before bed when we’re practically attached to our smartphones? It’s an incredibly bad habit that one study equaled to drinking two espressos.

Even worse, lots of us look at iPads and other tablets before we hit the hay. We surf the Web, check Facebook and Twitter, or just read. Researchers say the bright light coming from the screen mimics daylight. It suppresses production of melatonin, a brain chemical that helps us fall asleep.

The National Sleep Foundation says 41 percent of people report problems with tossing and turning at least a few times a week. It may sound trite, but sleep is considered important to public health because the lack of it has been linked to vehicle crashes, industrial disasters and medical errors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Albert did admit that sleeping gets trickier as we age. It’s more of a challenge, he said, because people start experiencing aches and pains.

“It’s normal to have poor sleep once in a while,” he said. “It’s not normal to have poor sleep all the time.”

Albert and experts worry that too many people are reaching for over-the-counter sleeping aids to solve their problems. That’s not a good idea, he said.

“Over the counter medications are this vast unknown in health care,” Albert said. “I call it the ‘Wild West’ of health care because it’s so underregulated. There’s no other aspect of health care where we expect people to diagnose themselves, walk to a place, find a product, decide when to start, decide when to stop.”

The problem with some of these sleeping aids, which I hope I never have to use, is that they can be easily misused.

The good news is that older people without medical conditions should be able to sleep as soundly as anyone else, Albert told me. We shouldn’t assume that because someone is old, their sleep must be terrible, he said.

Guess I’m not old. Just need to let my smartphone get sleep, too.

Luis Fábregas is Trib Total Media’s medical editor.


TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.