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How smartphones are crimping your sleep -- and the economy

If you’re like millions of Americans, you fall asleep to the blueish glow of your smartphone or handheld tablet. The problem with this scenario? Sleep experts are finding that these devices' light wavelengths can disrupt the brain's sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, Bloomberg reports. 

As a result, Americans are sleeping less, and that’s putting a strain on the economy and public health. It’s become such an issue that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year declared “insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic.” Among the causes the CDC cited were “round-the-clock access to technology.”

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 “We have biologically shifted ourselves so we can’t fall asleep earlier,” Charles Czeisler, a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, told Bloomberg “The amazing thing is that we are still trying to get up with the chickens.”

The cost to the economy stems from less productive workers — being tired may interfere with an employee’s ability to focus — and from workplace and transportation accidents. Each year, insomnia-related accidents in the workplace cost $31.1 billion, according to a 2012 study. 

At the same time, there’s a segment of the economy that’s thriving, given Americans’ growing drowsiness: sleep clinics and sleeping aids. Revenue from sleep clinics grew 12 percent each year from 2008 to 2011, Bloomberg notes, citing IBISWorld. And spending on sleeping aides, ranging from pills to “sleep consultants," was pegged at $32.4 billion in 2012, representing an 8.8 percent annual increase each year since 2008, according to IMS Health. 

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If you find it hard to withstand the allure of checking your Facebook feed or Twitter account while settling in at night, you are far from alone. According to a 2013 poll by the National Sleep Foundation, about one-half of Americans say they use a computer, laptop or electronic tablet within an hour of going to bed

So how much sleep should Americans be getting? The CDC recommends seven to nine hours a night for adults, although almost one-third of adults say they get less than six hours. 

Much of the advice offered by the CDC is well known, such as going to bed at the same time each night. But there’s at least one tech-related solution that can help die-hard technophiles continue to use their devices while helping them ease into sleep. 

The free software f.lux moderates the intensity and spectrum of light emitted by a computer’s display. (As f.lux user myself, I can vouch that it does at least ease eyestrain, although it may not help me fall asleep faster.)

And then there’s the old-fashioned solution -- turn off your devices when it’s time for bed.

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