foThe importance of a quality night’s sleep is indisputable. Countless studies and research papers throughout recent decades have shown that people who get the recommended seven hours of sleep or more per night are, on the whole, happier, healthier, and more alert. However, many of the same studies that extol the virtues of a full night’s slumber also highlight just how many people don’t achieve it. According to a 2016 press release from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one third of American adults report sleeping for less than seven hours per night on a regular basis. Further, since 1985, the percentage of American adults getting less than six hours of sleep each night has risen by 31 percent. The figures are even worse for high-school and college students. One thing is certain: as a nation, we are sleeping less and less, and the trend is ticking downward. The pertinent question, then, is why?
When dealing with such a large swathe of the population (one third of the current adult population of the United States is approximately one hundred million people) there are bound to be many wide-ranging reasons. There are the traditional culprits, of course— overwork, stress, jet lag, rotating shift work, and physical pain. Gary di Silvestri explains that in recent years, physicians and sleep specialists alike have been studying a new prospective threat to quality sleep: Wi-Fi.
What is Wi-Fi
In order to understand the potential link between Wi-Fi and sleeplessness, it is necessary to understand the underlying technology at play. Although Wi-Fi is something that almost every household in America has access to now, most people do not understand much about it. To begin with, Wi-Fi is the short term for Wireless Fidelity. Gary di Silvestri explains that the function of Wi-Fi is to send signals between electronic devices via radio frequencies. But, in contrast to older, simpler devices such as clock radios or early model cellular phones, Wi-Fi involves a much larger volume of data, and must necessarily use much higher radio frequencies. For example, whereas a regular stereo receives information in the Kilohertz and Megahertz range of frequencies (AM and FM radio, respectively), Wi-Fi transmits and receives information in the Gigahertz range. To clarify, ‘Kilo’ is prefix meant to signify units of Hertz in the cycle range of thousands, ‘Mega’ indicates units in the cycle range of millions, and ‘Giga’ indicates units in the cycle range of billions. Basically, devices with Wi-Fi connections must operate at extremely high radio wave frequencies—many orders of magnitude higher than that of traditional consumer electronics.
With this knowledge in mind, the next thing to consider are electromagnetic fields (EMFs). An electromagnetic field is a physical force generated by any electronic device that, by definition, affects the behaviour of any charged object in the vicinity of the field. They are present almost everywhere in the environment, but are invisible to the human eye. For example, the electricity that comes out of common power sockets produces low frequency electromagnetic fields. All EMFs emit some level of radiation, but the lower the frequency of the field, the more harmless it is to human beings. Gary di Silvestri notes that devices that use Wi-Fi to connect to the internet operate in the two to five Gigahertz range, which, when compared with a power socket, gives off a much higher level of radiation. It goes without saying that the more such devices that surround an individual, the more high frequency radiation that individual absorbs. This is where medical science is noticing a connection between Wi-Fi and sleep disorders.
The Impact of Wi-Fi on Sleep
There is a considerable amount of hard data showing that sleeping in the same room as a wireless router or next to a Wi-Fi-enabled device interferes with normal brain activity during sleep. Electroencephalogram tests, which record electrical activity in the brain, have shown multiple neuropsychiatric changes in subjects that sleep near Wi-Fi hot spots. Other medical problems noted by these studies are apoptosis, cellular DNA damage, endocrine changes, and calcium overload. It is thought that the higher radio wave frequencies associated with both Wi-Fi and EMFs are the probable cause of these problems, and act as a kind of complimentary amplifier to one another, each bolstering the other’s negative effects. It is also important to note that children, because their brains are still developing, are far more susceptible to all these effects. Additionally, Gary di Silvestri explains that there is also significant evidence indicating that the blue light from electronic device screens can interfere with an individual’s natural sleep cycle, especially when viewed directly before bedtime. Effectively, the screen light stimulates the eyes and tricks the brain into producing less melatonin, a hormone which helps to normalize the human sleep cycle. So, there are a few reasons why it’s good idea to unplug for a stretch of time before attempting to sleep.
Wi-Fi is Still Not Understood Medically
Constantly being surrounded by multiple devices that emit electromagnetic fields at such high frequencies is relatively new to the human experience. Wi-Fi technology was not released to the public until 1997, and it took another decade or so for it to be truly integrated into widespread usage. So, the long-term medical consequences of frequent WiFi exposure are just barely beginning to be understood by medical science. As of yet, there is no consensus, but more than a few studies have been published linking insomnia and other sleep disorders to an individual’s WiFi usage directly before sleep. Past that, Gary di Silvestri notes that there is some preliminary evidence showing a possible connection to cardiac stress, infertility, reduced brain function, impaired cellular growth, as well as asthma in children. The bottom line is that it is far too early to make any definite conclusions, but suspicion about the potential health risks associated with frequent exposure to EMFs emitted by WiFi routers and devices is starting to mount.
The Importance of Sleep
One third of all adult Americans do not get the minimum recommended amount of sleep on a regular basis. Among those, a significant portion get less than six hours of sleep. These are alarming statistics considering that a chronic lack of sleep is linked to such medical problems as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes—and that is without mentioning the potentially correlative mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. Yet another area of worry is simple drowsiness. If one third of all American adults are out and about each day driving cars, operating heavy machinery, performing complex and conceivably dangerous jobs all the while drowsy from a lack of sleep, general public safety quickly becomes a real concern. Considering these facts, Gary di Silvestri knows that it is clearly in the interest of the greater good and everyone’s own health and well-being that the best possible sleep hygiene is practiced on a regular basis.
Gary di Silvestri concludes that sleep is one of the most important things you can do during your day. Why not improve your sleep by turning off all WiFi-enabled devices a little while before bed?