I have to start out by noting that the word really is “backlight” and not “backlit” as I keep seeing the word backlight written as both “backlight” and “backlit;” however, the Oxford Dictionary lists the word as “Backlight” and defines it as meaning “Illumination from behind,” so I’m going to go with the term backlight and that definition!  (Concise Oxford Dictionary, page 96).

And with the spelling issue out of the way on to the reasons why I think staring at a backlight screen for hours can indeed cause sleeplessness!

Over the last few years I’ve come across a number of articles on the subject of how using a device with a backlight screen for a long period time, especially late in the day or into the evening, can disrupt your sleep or cause you to have trouble getting to sleep at night.

Now, being a huge tech fan I have been known to read on my iPad or play strategy games like Sid Meier’s Civilization III for hours in the evening! In fact, I’d go home after work and start playing a game or reading an e-book on my iPad while I was making dinner and stay glued to that backlight screen and that game or e-book for hours;  only stopping for about an hour and a half to take a walk and call my mother.  And I did not want to believe that staring at a backlight screen wasn’t good for me, nor that it impacted my sleep in a negative way. However, I did noticed that if I spent hours and hours a day and all evening staring at a backlight screen that it did seem that I either didn’t sleep well or I couldn’t easily get to sleep.

So I decided to try a little experiment!

For two weeks I did not stare at a backlight screen on my iPad, iPhone or computer at night for more than 5 minutes to check email, the weather forecast or to turn on the MapMyWalk app on my phone so I could track the distance I walked each evening. Instead, once I finished my work day, I read a print book, read a book on my e-reader with an e-ink screen (non-backlit), I went for a longer walk, watched a movie, did a few more domestic chores, talked on the phone and I even watered my plants and played with a cat or two a bit more than I would have if I’d been playing a strategy game on my iMac for hours into the night.


I found that the articles I read on the subject of the use of backlight screens being a major cause of sleep disruption were right on the proverbial money!

For all of the 14 days of my test I slept soundly at night and was only awakened early a few mornings by my hungry cat who doesn’t like his diet.  I did not experience the fit-full un-restorative sleep that I had not even noticed had previously become so frequently a part of my life it was almost routine; – and I did not experience it at all – not once!

So instead of continuing to attribute my previous lack of sleeping well to either being overtired due to having a very busy day at work, or the other suspected culprit for a woman of my age – one of those nice premenopausal symptoms, I now realize that the real culprit is looking at backlight screens for hours and hours a day and well into the evening.

Now I haven’t given up playing computer games or reading on my iPad; but I do make sure that I don’t that in the evenings – I cut myself off from any in-depth activity that has me staring at a backlight screen after 6 p.m. And with this new routine I sleep better and have more energy during the day than I did when I spent hours in the evening playing computer games or reading on my iPad until just before I went to bed at night.

So I would say we can equate staring at a backlight screen on a computer, tablet or smartphone for hours into the evening to be in the same keeping-us-awake-at-night arena as drinking regular coffee into the evening!

Have a great day!

Linda R.


Backlight. Oxford Dictionaries. Online. Accessed June 5, 2014, http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/backlight

Concise Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 2011.

Mayo Clinic. (2013, June 3). “Are smartphones disrupting your sleep?.” ScienceDaily. Online. Accessed June 5, 2014,  http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130603163610.htm

Mullaney, Rebekah. Depending on How Much and How Long, Light from Self-Luminous Tablet Computers Can Affect Evening Melatonin, Delaying Sleep . Lighting Research Center. Online. Accessed June 5, 2014, http://www.lrc.rpi.edu/resources/newsroom/pr_story.asp?id=235#.U5DhQHKwIwA

Rattue, Grace. (2012, August 24). Sleep Can Be Affected By Back-Lit Tablet Computers. MNT. Online. Accessed June 5, 2014, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/249402.php

Sutter, John. (2010, May 13). Trouble sleeping? Maybe it’s your iPad. CNN. Online. Accessed June 5, 2014, http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/05/13/sleep.gadgets.ipad/


And don’t forget if you need help in learning how to use your new computer, smartphone or tablet or software installed upon your new computer, smartphone or tablet — you can make an appointment with a member of the library’s Digital Literacy Services Department — we’ll sit down with you and assist you in learning the personal technology ropes — it is a free service!

You can call us to make an appointment at: 607-936-3713 or send an email to: DIGLIT@STLS.ORG


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