There’s a lot of myths and half truths out there about how—and if—your smart phone may be affecting the brain. While there is still a lot of research that needs to be done on the topic of wireless devices, there does seem to be a link between blue light—emitted by electronic screens including those of smart phones—and sleep.
Interrupting or changing our sleep patterns is bad for a lot of reasons. For example, lack of enough deep sleep could be preventing us from flushing harmful beta-amyloid from our brains.
According to Tara Swart, a senior lecturer at MIT specializing in sleep and the brain, our brains’ natural cleansing system requires six to eight hours of sleep. Without it, brains eventually encounter major build-ups of beta-amyloid, a neurotoxin found in clumps in the brains of people with neurological disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
While scientists have always known that the brain cleanses wastes, much like the body, the sophistication of this cleansing system was investigated in 2013 by Maiken Nedergaard of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester. This study found “hidden caves” that open up in our brains when we’re in a deep enough sleep. This liquid cleaning system, dubbed the “glymphatic system,” enables copious amounts of neurotoxins to be pushed through the spinal column.
So, exactly how far away do you need to keep your smart devices?
We’re not completely sure, but Swart says it’s a good idea to not sleep with it next to your head.
Ultimately, keeping our brains healthy takes willpower and resilience, just like with any other part of our bodies. But as research shows, staying sound of body and mind as we age is certainly possible—with a little effort.
- Vivian Giang