How easily can you fall asleep? Do you count sheep, or pace the room, or lie in bed staring at the ceiling for hours? There is something you might be doing to make it all worse and you haven’t even realised.

If you’re in the habit of reading from your iPad (or phone, laptop or TV) in the time before you drift off to sleep, you’re actually making it much harder for your body to get into a restful state and stay there.

Reading from an electronic device before bed not only makes it harder to fall asleep, but also impacts how sleepy and alert you are the next day, according to new research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

Dr Anne-Marie Chang, an associate neuroscientist in BWH’s Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders who was a co-author of the study, had this to say: “We know from previous work that light from screens in the evening alters sleepiness and alertness, and suppresses melatonin levels.”

“This study shows comprehensive results of a direct comparison between reading with a light-emitting device and reading a printed book and the consequences on sleep.”

So if you want to start each day with a spring in your step, avoid the screens and pick up an actual printed book. In addition to lowered energy, Chang said that sleep deficiency has been linked to other health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Chronic suppression of melatonin has also been associated with increased risk of certain cancers.

The study ran for two weeks and included 12 participants who read on an iPad for four hours before bed for five days straight, a process that was repeated with printed books. For some, the order was reversed — they started with printed books and moved to iPads.

The impact was immediate. People who spent time on screens before sleep took longer to fall asleep, felt less sleepy at night and had shorter REM sleep compared to the people who read books. And the screen readers were also more tired than book readers the following day, even if both got a full eight hours of sleep.

“The best recommendation — although not the most popular — would be to avoid use of light-emitting screens before bedtime,” said Dr. Chang. “For those who must use computers or other light-emitting devices in the evening, software or other technology that filters out the blue light may help.”

It’s time to put the phones (and iPads, laptops and eReaders) down and pick up an old-fashioned book to ensure you get your snooze on.

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