Turns out Apple's Night Shift feature might not be helping you sleep

A new study evaluated its effectiveness and came to a surprising conclusion.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
2 min read

Night Shift alone may not be helping you sleep.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

You probably know that excessive exposure to electronic screens before bed can disrupt your sleep.

That's why Apple introduced Night Shift back in iOS 9.3, then added it to Macs in 2017. The setting aims to minimize the adverse effects of the blue light emitted by your phone, tablet and computer.

However, according to a new Light Research Center study on the effectiveness of Night Shift, your sleep may still be at risk.

Accessible by tapping Settings > Display & Brightness > Night Shift, the mode lets you "shift the colors of your display to the warmer end of the color spectrum after dark." The "warmer" the screen, the less blue light it emits. The less blue light it emits, the better you'll sleep -- theoretically.

Researchers recruited 12 young adults to view iPads between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. on four separate nights under four different conditions. The study looked at the amount of melatonin suppression resulting from three different iPad settings: Night Shift disabled, Night Shift set to Less Warm and Night Shift set to More Warm. (Melatonin is the naturally produced hormone the body releases to help you sleep.)

Although all three conditions "significantly" suppressed melatonin, Night Shift suppressed it slightly less. But the study found "no significant difference" between the effectiveness of the two Night Shift settings. (At press time, Apple had yet to respond to our request for comment on the study.)

The big takeaway: It's not just light spectrum that can affect your sleep; it's screen brightness as well.

That's why LRC researchers recommended keeping brightness levels low, limiting the use of personal electronic devices to one-hour sessions and "avoiding exposures starting at least two hours before bedtime."

Furthermore, even if your melatonin levels aren't being suppressed at night, your screens can be "alerting to the brain and, as a result, can disrupt sleep."

In other words, put down the phone/tablet/laptop and fall asleep to a good book the way nature intended.