TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - In this age of constant connection, technology is part of many of our professional and personal lives. Now it seems there is a dark side of being over-connected and it all has to do with light.
The blue light that comes from our screens make the picture very clear, but it is not clear exactly why blue light in particular is capable of having such a damaging effect on our sleep habits, and in turn our health.
The technology we use is everywhere.
"You can't even do your homework on a piece of paper anymore," Brooke Chavez, a freshman at the University of Arizona said. "Every worksheet is online, papers, obviously Facebook. Everyone is on Facebook constantly."
Chavez says she has had trouble sleeping since high school and before coming to UA, warned her dorm roommate that she is an insomniac.
"I really can't go to sleep," Chavez said. "She doesn't believe me."
Chavez says after too many sleepless nights, her parents encouraged her to seek help. She came to the Center for Sleep Disorders at the University of Arizona Medical Center where Dr. Sairam Parthasarathy diagnosed her with "delayed sleep phase disorder."
In some patients, especially young adults like Chavez, the disorder is aggravated by exposure to blue light.
"When some folks say, 'I take my iPad to bed and I read with the blue light and I read until 2 in the morning, wake up at 7, I'm totally functional, I don't know what you're talking about,' well you're gifted," Parthasarathy explained. "That means your genes and your brain, the way it's engineered is more resilient to bad effects of these things. Good for you, but that doesn't mean it's good for everybody."
When the sun comes up, we're supposed to rise, too. The Earth's light controls our circadian rhythm, the 24-hour cycle that tells us when to wake and when to sleep. When there is less light, our body releases melatonin, the hormone which makes us sleepy. Melatonin secretion is pushed back when we're exposed to lights of all kind, dangerously messing with our natural sleep cycle.
"There's more and more tube lights or blue lights coming into the market right now," Parthasarathy said.
Blue light has a higher frequency than most other lights we're exposed to and more than other types, it pushes melatonin away in a much more powerful way. That high frequency blue light comes from things that we use every day, TVs, laptops, tablets and cell phones - things that most of us find pretty difficult to just turn off.
In our fast-paced society, needing extra sleep is sometimes seen as a weakness. But studies show how essential it is. We spend one-third of our lifetime head to pillow.
"If it were not important, we wouldn't have been built that way," Parthasarathy said.
Lack of sleep has been linked to everything from obesity to cancer. So if you toss and turn at night, and think scrolling through Facebook will help you get shuteye, you might want to try counting sheep in the darkness instead.
"I think right now I'm 100 percent but I may be wrong. I may be functioning at 80 percent. Maybe if I focused more on sleep I may be functioning better and I wouldn't know that unless I experienced it," Parthasarathy said.
While disconnecting from our fancy, blue-light devices may not solve every sleep problem, Parthasarathy says it is more than worth a try.