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Warning about using digital devices before bedtime

We are constantly being reminded of the dangers of technology on our health. The stories cover microwave ovens, smart TVs, mobile phones, video games, tablets, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. The mainstream media usually focus the link to some form of cancer. But in recent years infertility is also catching their attention. In particular, there has been a spotlight on mobile phones and a link to male infertility.

Is there a problem?

Potentially, yes. Back in 2008, researchers showed that long term exposure to radio frequency (RF) radiation from mobile phones affects sperm cells. They exposed the sperm from 32 men to one hour’s worth of RF radiation from phones set in talk mode.

Types of RF radiation that we are routinely exposed as part of modern life.

The researchers found that the actual DNA of the sperm was not affected. But the semen exposed to the RF radiation had higher levels of damaging free radicals. It also had lower sperm motility, its ability to move and swim. They also noted lower sperm viability, which is the percentage of live sperm.

At the time, Dr. Ashok Agarwal, Lead Researcher, Center for Reproductive Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, USA said, “Bluetooth devices, which many people use because of health or safety concerns, may not be always safe. There is a downside.”

Don’t keep your phone in your pocket

However, his experiment had been carried out with the phones placed 2.5cms from the semen. This to emulated if a phone is kept in the trouser pocket, close to the testes. Dr. Agarwal added, “We know the radiation impairs sperm quality at 2.5 centimeters. But we don’t know if the effect will continue at 3, 4, or 5 centimeters.”

Move on 12 years, and a more complete picture is emerging. Recent research from Israel suggests that using smartphones and laptops at night may harm male fertility. The Israeli team found that using these devices at night caused:

  • Lower sperm count and motility
  • Lower sperm viability.

This could be a problem. A recent survey showed 90% of adults use a digital device within one hour of going to sleep. However, the team are not claiming a direct association between the RF radiation of the devices and sperm quality. Instead they think the devices may be affecting sleep patterns which might be affecting sperm quality.

Whatever the direct cause, the advice seems to be clear. Researchers have a simple message,

“We suggest men don’t use digital devices for at least two hours before sleep time.”