eBooks, Sleep, and the Threat To Your Rectum

eBooks, Sleep, and the Threat To Your Rectum

If you need a good reason to put down the eReader and pick up some print, how's colorectal cancer strike you?

Okay, that's being a bit alarmist. But a recent small study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston concluded that reading from a light-emitting device before bed can have some pretty harsh effects on a person's sleep.

We found that, compared with reading a printed book in reflected light, reading a LE-eBook in the hours before bedtime decreased subjective sleepiness, decreased EEG delta/theta activity, and suppressed the late evening rise of pineal melatonin secretion during the time that the book was being read. We also found that, compared with reading a printed book, reading an LE-eBook in the hours before bedtime lengthened sleep latency; delayed the phase of the endogenous circadian pacemaker that drives the timing of daily rhythms of melatonin secretion, sleep propensity, and REM sleep propensity; and impaired morning alertness.

That's some scientific stuff, and if you stayed up late reading on your iPad and your brain's not quite ready to roll yet, the quick and dirty version is that reading from a device that emits its own light makes it take longer to fall asleep, which is crappy, messes up the normal human sleep cycle, which is also crappy, and ultimately means you're not ready to read science in the morning.

It turns out that melatonin suppression has been linked to breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and prostate cancer, and in fact night shift work has recently been classified a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization.

Interestingly enough, other items classified as "probably" carcinogens along with "Shiftwork that involves circadian disruption" are:

"Hairdresser or barber (workplace exposure as)", 
"Mate, hot"
"Frying, emissions from high-temperature"
"Art glass, glass containers, and press ware (manufacture of)"

Which means my combination salon/KFC/head shop/natural food mart is going to be a real problem.

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Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb December 24, 2014 - 9:50am

Another chapter in the book of 'Everything Can Kill You' then. Well, I quit smoking but I'm not changing my ebook practices. I like to read them and I like to write them, and I'm a former insomniac who regualarly falls asleep with Nook in hand, because my sleep problems were never anything to do with technology. I also gave away quite a few copies of my book today and hope people fall asleep reading it this fine Christmas eve.

Fuck you Harvard study; I'm carrying on. There's a risk to just about anything so I'd rather just live my life as I see fit. 

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami December 24, 2014 - 8:37pm

I knew there was a reason I preferred print. Now if only they'll come out with that hemingwright.

I prefer pen and moleskin anyway, until transcription.

edsikov's picture
edsikov from New York by way of Natrona Hts PA is reading absolutely nothing December 25, 2014 - 1:00am

Note to technological advancement: leave my rectum alone! What with Facebook snooping and the NSA and Google, it's the last truly private thing I have. You'll not take it! No! I resist!


Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine December 28, 2014 - 6:20am

Haha, oh Ed...