Ah, bedtime. Time to slip on our jammies, curl up with a good book, send a few last texts to our friends, and then turn out the lights. And what's the last thing most of us do? We plug our electronic devices into their chargers on the nightstand so we can grab them first thing in the morning.
That's exactly what I used to do. But now, I make my phone and my tablet sleep in another room.
No, we didn't break up. I still love them dearly, and we'll always be together. (Well, at least until the next models come out.) But I recently found out that in the sack, our relationship just wasn't healthy.
Why? Because they messed with my hormones. And they did this in ways that could make me gain weight, cause me to lose sleep, or even put me at higher risk for diabetes.
I know it sounds crazy, but it's true.
Here's the story. The light emitted by your phone or tablet alters your levels of melatonin, your "sleep" hormone. Normally, this hormone rises at night and drops during the day. But when you expose yourself to certain colors of light at night -- including the blue light emitted by screens and by devices you're charging -- you mess with this cycle.
This is a very bad thing, because melatonin plays a crucial role in everything from how long you sleep to how hungry you are. In fact, new research shows that exposure to melatonin-suppressing blue light can make you hungry within 15 minutes, and your increased hunger can last for nearly two hours.
(Yep. Are you seeing the connection between bedtime tablet and phone use and those "midnight munchies"?)
And here's an even more alarming scientific finding: By altering your melatonin cycle, nighttime light exposure from phones and tablets may put you at risk for diabetes. This doesn't surprise me at all, because our sleep-wake cycle is one of the most powerful forces in nature. Our entire body chemistry -- hormones, neurotransmitters, blood glucose levels, you name it -- responds to this cycle. Combine mixed-up biochemistry with increased hunger, and it's a short step to obesity and diabetes.
How serious is this problem? An earlier study found that mice exposed to even dim light at night gained 50 percent more weight than mice kept in total darkness. The light-exposed mice also started showing signs of glucose intolerance, the first step on the path to diabetes.
So... what's the solution? Here's what I recommend.
• As much as you can, do your electronic reading, texting, and work during daylight hours -- the time when your melatonin is supposed to be low. (Also turn off the TV as early as possible.)
• Charge your tablet and phone in a separate room. Yeah, it's a pain to have to jump out of bed and grab your phone if it rings at 2 a.m. (I've cussed more than once when I stubbed a toe making that mad dash.) But if it keeps you healthier and thinner, it's worth it.
• Banish other lights as well. If there's a streetlight outside your window, get blackout curtains. And if light from other rooms in the house sneaks in under your door, put a towel there to block it.
• If you need to use a nightlight, put a red bulb in it. Red light doesn't mess with your melatonin levels.
• If you have to be around electronic devices at night, or there are other lights you can't block, try taking supplemental melatonin. Just be sure to buy a high-quality brand.
I know that if you're used to having your phone and tablet right at hand at night, parting with them -- even for a few hours -- is hard. We've all experienced electronic "separation anxiety."
But trust me: When you turn off your devices early in the evening, and exile them from your bedroom at night, you'll sleep better. Better yet, you could stay thinner and healthier. And don't worry: They'll still love you in the morning.