Is Your eReader Keeping You Up At Night?

Is Your eReader Keeping You Up At Night?

There are few things better than cozying up with a good book before drifting into peaceful slumber, but if you're using a Nook, Kindle Fire, iPad, or other backlit eReader to do your bedtime reading, the activity might not be as relaxing as it seems. A new 13-person study out of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Lighting Research Center found that a two-hour session with a luminous eReader suppresses melatonin—the hormone that helps regulate your circadian rhythms and signals your body to sleep at night—by about 22 percent; that's enough to leave you tossing and turning when you should be snoozing.

The findings sound like bad news for eBook aficionados, but the researchers are glass-half-full kind of people. They point out that this new information can help manufacturers create more "circadian-friendly electronic devices" that would increase or decrease the short-wave light emitted based on the time of day to increase our alertness during our morning reading and soothe us into a better night's sleep in the evening. The new knowledge can also be used to design tablets that would minimize seasonal affective disorder for those in gloomy regions and improve certain sleep disorders for seniors and other problem sleepers...all while you read, play games, or watch movies. Hurrah for the future!

The short-wave light from any LCD screen—including your phone, computer screen, and television—has the same effect on melatonin suppression as the eReader light in the study, so if you suffer from insomnia, try stepping away from the screens for a few hours before bedtime or, at the very least, turning the brightness down as low as possible.

Anybody read with a backlit eReader in bed? Have you noticed any effect on your sleep?

Photo via Ben Dodson

Kimberly Turner

News by Kimberly Turner

Kimberly Turner is an internet entrepreneur, DJ, editor, beekeeper, linguist, traveler, and writer. This either makes her exceptionally well-rounded or slightly crazy; it’s hard to say which. She spent a decade as a journalist and magazine editor in Australia and the U.S. and is now working (very, very slowly) on her first novel. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics and lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, two cats, ten fish, and roughly 60,000 bees.

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Benjamin Timmins's picture
Benjamin Timmins August 31, 2012 - 1:49pm

Thats one of the many reasons I use a regular kindle touch instead of a tablet to read with. I cant stand reading with back lit devices. Eyes will start burning after only a short amount of time when reading with tablets. Plus, regular kindles are just soo much lighter and easier to hold while laying down.

Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks August 31, 2012 - 9:22pm

I noticed this and actually did turn down the brightness -- I had the vague idea that I'd read about something similar to this online and that it might help. I actually sleep better if I read my Nook rather than an actual book before bed because I feel uncomfortable reading in low light, so having the backlight of the Nook set at a fairly low dim makes me more comfortable and less likely to have all the lights in my room set on full blast.


SammyB's picture
SammyB from Las Vegas is reading currently too many to list August 31, 2012 - 11:22pm

I notice the impact of backlit screens most when I try to sleep after a long session on my lap top. My Kindle Fire has the brightness on the lowest setting possible, because the screen was overwhelming on the default setting. Haven't tried reading on it before bed, but I imagine it would be too stimulating.

Michael J. Riser's picture
Michael J. Riser from El Cerrito, CA (originally), now Fort Worth, TX is reading The San Veneficio Canon - Michael Cisco, The Croning - Laird Barron, By the Time We Leave Here, We'll Be Friends - J. David Osborne September 1, 2012 - 5:38pm

I question the validity of any study that asks me to take it seriously when using a sample of 13 people. That said, it wouldn't surprise me if this were true. Though I stare at computer monitors right before bed almost every night and I sleep like a baby as soon as my head hits the pillow (generally). Is there a difference, I wonder?

I have a small light by my bed for nighttime reading of real books. It does the trick.

Kimber's picture
Kimber from Atlanta is reading The Every by Dave Eggers September 2, 2012 - 12:03pm

@Michael Yeah, the size of the study is definitely inadequate, but it does make sense, so I'd like to see it replicated with a larger sample size. Computer monitors should have the same effect, according to the research. I'm like you though in that I often work right up until bed on my computer then sleep like a baby. But I can also sleep with every light on. Or with a marching band playing in the room. So there's that. I think I'm just perpetually tired.

Aaron Long's picture
Aaron Long November 12, 2012 - 9:28am

no offence ment but maybe have a bit more of a knowledge of technology before writing about it. =/ Ereaders with eink are the definition of ereader. Not the tablets you mention. Eink is as good for your eyes as a book im comparrison with tablets. There is no light going at your eyes. And even the frontlit ones ( kindle paperwhite, kobo glo ) Are almost as good as a book.