We’re all guilty of it: There’s a Law & Order: SVU marathon on and, even though you’ve seen every episode, you stay up well past a reasonable hour and eventually nod off in front of the TV. Or maybe it’s falling down a Google rabbit hole, hunting for the perfect one-piece swimsuit, only to get down on yourself because all the models are Photoshopped within an inch of their lives. Whatever the activity, your late-night screen time may be making you depressed, according to a new study by researchers at Ohio State University. But it’s not because of what you watch or do–it’s just the fact that you do it in the dark.
Researchers hypothesized that our exposure to dim, unnatural light in otherwise dark rooms–like during your late-night Facebooking explorations–may have a hand in the uptick in depression over the last 50 years. So, to conduct the experiment, they exposed hamsters to dim light in an otherwise dark room, and studied changes to their behavior and brain responses.
But the scientists couldn’t exactly ask the hamsters how they felt when they saw that their ex had a really pretty new partner with a great job and a puppy–they could only judge depression by the brain responses and outward symptoms which mimic depression in humans.
And, in case you’re curious (I was), symptoms of a depressed hamster include lack of interest in drinking sugar water and lethargy. Awww.
Basically, this means it’s not even the content of the E! News reruns you watch at 2 a.m. that’s bringing you down. It’s just time spent in front of a dim screen in the dark.
Of course, we already know that the content of what you look at can change your emotions, too. More than a few studies have shown that Facebook, TV, and the Internet in general can leave you feeling negative, down, and generally low–particularly about your own body. The dim light, then, is just another reason to shut. It. Off.
To cut back on the depression linked to unnatural and poor light, try to limit your computing and television watching to times when you can do either do it in natural light (a tall order in the winter), or at least when you have several lights on around you.
Another good habit: set yourself a screen bedtime. Even if you stay up well past it, giving yourself at least an hour or two between when you shut the laptop lid and actually go to sleep can help your body adjust to sleep and ward off negative feelings.
Image via HBO