e-readers

E-Books: New Harvard Study Says They Can Make You Sick

A new study conducted at Harvard University has determined that reading e-books instead of paper books can make you sick.

The study on e-books was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. In the research study, 12 subjects were observed as they slept every night for two weeks. The research scientists discovered that those that read from an e-reader such as an iPad or a Kindle before going to bed, had a much more difficult time getting to sleep, and once they were slumbering, they spent less time in a crucial phase of the sleep process and were highly fatigued the following day.

Dr. Anne-Marie Chang, the lead researcher in the study, says that sleep deprivation — as well as poor sleep — is associated with a multitude of serious health problems.

“Sleep deficiency is associated with negative consequences for health. We knew that light in the evening affects circadian rhythms and affects sleep and alertness. But we wanted to test if light from light-emitting devices, such as e-readers, which were gaining in popularity, would have the same effect if people were using them to read before bedtime.”

The specifics of the e-book sleep study was as follows: For five nights, the 12 volunteers in the study read what they considered “relaxing” material off of an e-reader for two hours before going to sleep. For the next five nights, the volunteers read the same type of material out of a paper book. The results were clear. When the volunteers read e-books, they took longer to get to sleep, and once sleeping they spent considerably less time in the important REM (rapid eye movement) phase of sleep in which the brain receives its most intense nighttime rest.

In addition, the researchers found that those volunteers that read from e-books before bed reported feeling “less sleepy in the evening but more sleepy in the morning.” Researchers also discovered that the light from the e-book readers was suppressing and delaying the production of melatonin in the volunteers’ bodies.

How serious is all this for the millions of people who enjoy reading e-books before bed? The researchers say, very serious. Lack of good sleep can cause decreased performance and alertness, memory and cognitive impairment and relationship stress. Medically, poor sleep can lead to heart attacks, heart failure, stroke, obesity, psychiatric problems, attention deficit disorder, fetal and childhood growth retardation and a generally poor quality of life.

Web MD even says that losing sleep from something like reading an e-book before bed can be a greater mortality risk than high blood pressure, heart disease and even smoking.

What do you think? Is the information in the study enough for you to put down your e-book reader before bed and pick up a good old-fashioned paper book?

[Image via Science Daily]

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