Electric lights that brighten smartphones, laptops, tablets, and other electronic devices are frequently causing people to not get a proper night’s sleep, according to a new report published in the journal Nature.

The body’s natural rhythm becomes distorted as a result of artificial lights. Additionally, these lights can impact chemicals in the brain as well as prompt people to use stimulants such as caffeine.

Charles Czeisler, professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, felt that research was needed to help come up with behavioral and technical ways of offsetting the ill effects artificial light has on sleep.

Professor Czeisler said:

“There are many reasons why people get insufficient sleep in our 24/7 society, from early starts at work or school, or long commutes, to caffeine-rich food and drink. But the precipitating factor is an often unappreciated, technological breakthrough: the electric light. Without it, few people would use caffeine to stay awake at night. And light affects our circadian rhythms more powerfully than any drug.”

Between 1950 and 2000, the use of artificial light sources increased fourfold for the typical person in the UK, with a parallel increase in sleep deficiency, according to Czeisler.

Sleep-promoting neurons in the brain are stopped by artificial light and so is the nightly release of melatonin – the hormone that encourages sleep. Instead, the light activates neurons that make people more alert.

Due to today’s technology, several people are still using their laptops, mobile phones, or watching TV at midnight, not realizing that it is the middle of the solar night, the expert explained.

In a U.S. study, 30% of all working adults and 44% of night workers said that, on average, they get less than 6 hours of sleep a night.

Less than 3% of American adults slept so little fifty years ago, according to the report, and children worldwide are getting 1.2 hours less sleep on school nights than their counterparts 100 years ago.

Czeisler concluded:

“Technology has effectively decoupled us from the natural 24-hour day to which our bodies evolved, driving us to go to bed later. And we use caffeine in the morning to rise as early as we ever did, putting the squeeze on sleep.”

A previous study also demonstrated that using a mobile phone can interfere with a person’s quality of sleep. According to that report, subjects took longer to reach stage 3 deep sleep and had shorter stage 4 deep sleep after exposure to mobile signals.

Written by Sarah Glynn