Unanswered questions of science

Earlier this week Clay shared a video on his blog with Dr. Daniel Siegel explaining the harmful effects of looking at screens before bedtime.  The photons from the light of the screen discourage your brain from releasing melatonin and thus disrupt your ability to fall asleep.  Scientifically, this all makes sense, and I think we can all comfortably agree that this information is true.  But I would argue that Dr. Siegel left out a vital part of the discussion: how do the size of the screen and the amount of photons play a role in disrupting sleep?

I’m really asking this question based on personal experience.  When I watch a show on my laptop before bed, I have noticed that it’s harder to unwind and fall asleep after I’ve finished watching.  Usually I attribute this to a gripping plot that has stimulated my brain in some way, and while that’s bound to be partially true, I now know the photons are another cause.


But here’s where I start to question.  I scroll through Facebook, Twitter and Buzzfeed every night on my smartphone before I go to sleep.  It’s a way for my body to relax and get sleepy.  Several times I’ve caught myself dozing off with my phone still in my hand and my Buzzfeed app still open.  I’m willing to admit this has turned into a bad habit–to the extent that I have trouble falling asleep if I don’t first scroll through my phone.  And yes, this ritual technically takes away some of the time I could have spent sleeping, as Dr. Siegel also mentions. 

But why does my laptop keep me awake and my smartphone help put me to sleep? Is it because the limited amount of photons coming from a phone screen as opposed to a laptop screen are not enough to bother me?  Or is it just a fluke of my inherent sleep patterns working along with the bedtime habit I’ve created?  I would love to know these answers, and I think they’re important aspects that have been left out of the discussion.  If I had to take a wild guess though, I’d say it’s all of the above.


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