Bedtime iPad Use Can Affect Sleep, Says Someone. Baloney, Says Another



What is the scientific formula that explains the time between a new product’s release on the market and a host of experts popping up in the media to explain just why this thing is bad for you? Barely a month after its release, it’s the turn of the iPad, which is now, apparently, a bad thing to use before bedtime. A report in the L.A. Times today claims that reading your tablet before you go to sleep can lead to disturbed sleep patterns. Better, apparently, is to use your Kindle or similar e-Reader. Says who? The director of a sleep disorder clinic in Santa Monica, apparently.

To examine this claim, however, you need to look first at how the body prepares to shut down to go to sleep. A body’s circadian rhythm, or 24-hour cycle, works on several factors, the main one being daylight. As darkness falls, the hormone melatonin is released, which causes drowsiness and leads to sleep. General wisdom is that if your brain is being stimulated by light-emitting devices, such as a computer or a TV, it takes longer for the body to switch into sleep mode.

Whereas e-Readers use e-paper which work better in well-lit rooms, the iPad (and similar tablet devices) use backlit LCD screens that flourish in darker areas. One simplistic way of translating this would be that Kindles are good for singletons who can keep the lights on in their bedrooms without disturbing their other half, while iPads are good for couples, who can keep on surfing or reading while their partners slumber in the darkened room. Another interpretation could be this: whatever floats your boat, matey.

Last month, the WSJ published a feature that largely rubbished the old wives’ tale that staring at electronic screens produced eyestrain, which occurs when a person does one thing for too long. The solution to that, says Stanford Medical School ophthalmology professor Michael Marmor, is to take regular breaks. As for the question of which type of screen you use, it comes down to personal preference. Some people like cereal for breakfast, whilst others sit down to tea and toast.

Getting a good night’s sleep is reliant on many factors, not just what kind of screen your reading device (if it’s not a book) has. For example, having young children in the house, a boozy night out, living on a noisy street–in short, the general stresses and strains of everyday life–can affect the quality of your shuteye. The fact that this specific iPad-Bad-Kindle-Good argument is being proposed by a sleep disorder clinic is a bit of a clue. Perhaps it’s insomniacs who should steer clear of the iPad and other electronic devices last thing at night, not just the rest of us.

About the author

My writing career has taken me all round the houses over the past decade and a half--from grumpy teens and hungover rock bands in the U.K., where I was born, via celebrity interviews, health, tech and fashion in Madrid and Paris, before returning to London, where I now live. For the past five years I've been writing about technology and innovation for U.S.