art by Matthew Stoss

Night Shift

by Tara Cahanap

How many hours a day do you think we, as college students, spend looking at a screen? According to recent findings released by Alloy Media + Marketing’s Ninth Annual College Explorer Survey, college students in America spend an average of 12 hours a day engaged with some sort of media. Though the number may seem staggering, it is not surprising that our screen time is what it is given the fact that a college lifestyle centers on the balance between a social life and an academic life. For example, when we are not frantically typing out that term paper on our laptops, we are checking out the latest updates on our social media timelines.

From the moment we wake up and snooze our iPhone alarms to that last quick Twitter scroll-through before we shut our eyes and go to bed, we are attached to our devices. Our technology is there to remind us of our due dates, to help us dress for the weather and to stay connected to our families and friends. With each progression in user-friendliness, devices have only become more integrated in our daily routines. However, what if all of that screen time is actually causing harm to the one thing many college students value most: sleep.

Recent studies show that exposing ourselves in the evening to the bright blue light that lights our device screens causes a disruption in circadian rhythms and, as Apple has reported, can make it difficult for someone to fall asleep. According to an article published in 2012 by Harvard Health, blue wavelengths of light are helpful during the daytime when the mood, attention and reaction time boosts are most needed, yet disruptive at night. Though research shows that all kinds of light disrupt sleep to some extent, blue light does an especially good job of suppressing the body’s natural secretion of melatonin, a hormone that regulates our sleep cycles. Essentially, that last late-night Facebook post or staying up to finish the last paragraph of your paper could actually be the culprit for your insomnia!

In a world so dependent on technology, is it reasonable to expect consumers to change their device habits? With the launch of their new “Night Shift” feature, Apple is saying that one does not have to change his or her ways. Rumored to be in the works for a while, “Night Shift” is officially included in the latest iOS release (9.3), which has been marketed as “a better experience every day. And night.” The new feature uses your iPhone’s clock and geolocation to determine when it is sunset where you are; using this information, the iOS device automatically shifts the colors in the display to the warmer end of the spectrum to help gradually counteract the negative effects of that daily dose of blue light on your body’s sleep cycle--perfect for the college night owl who saves their course reading for midnight.

The Internet is spilling over with positive praise for Apple’s move to create more health-conscious technology, but the introduction of the feature so late in the game begs the question: why has it taken this long? In a world saturated with Apple products, it is no exaggeration to say that college is very much an iOS world. With that much control over the lifestyle of an entire population, why has not Apple been spending their money on developing products that address these new public health issues? This generation’s youth is facing a whole different public health monster than generations before it; in the face of such rapid technological advancement comes the question of how our lifestyles are warping to accommodate it all.

Today’s toddlers are learning their shapes on apps instead of with building blocks; schools are making eBooks a new standard; the iPhone is absorbing the capabilities of every other device and gadget on the market. This shift is undeniable—there is no changing it. However, maybe it is the responsibility of tech giants like Apple to develop the answers to our tech lifestyle’s problems. Is it not technology’s foremost purpose to better our lives? Our access to these amazing advancements is expanding every day, but at what cost? With the overwhelming moral debate about groundbreaking technologies like 3-D printed organs and genetic engineering, often the public health concerns of our everyday technologies fade into the background. Though the flourishing of the tech age may pose more problems than solutions, Apple’s “Night Shift” technology is definitely a step in the right direction. What’s the next step, then? Let’s sleep on it.