We’re hooked on our electronics – some say the only time they’re off is when we’re in bed, but for some (like me) even that’s not true.
Many of us are hooked on the constant glow of a screen from the moment we get up, until the moment we fall asleep. I have a clock app on my Smartphone that’s on and displaying the time all night long as well.
This creates a problem with our sleep that you’re probably not aware of.
Our natural circadian rhythms (the internal day-night clock we all have) are driven primarily by the sun. When the sun goes away, it’s night-time – and our drive for sleep is strongest. When the sun comes up, the sleep drive goes away. We have a hormone in our bodies that is controlled by the presence of light – melatonin. Normally, nighttime triggers melatonin production, and morning suppresses it.
With the introduction of the lightbulb, we introduced strong artificial lighting into our night-times. It made it possible for us to be far more productive, and we were no longer limited to daylight to get things done. What we unknowingly did was mess up our circadian rhythms, because we now had light far later than normal in our evenings – and bright light at night suppresses the natural melatonin production.
For most of us, this wasn’t a huge issue. The light wasn’t strong enough to have an overall negative impact.
That’s not the case today. When you add up the ambient light in our homes at night, and then add in all the new supplemental light, it’s having a cumulative effect. Think about all this new supplemental light:
- Television set (often multiple television sets)
- Computers – desktop and laptop
- Tablet computers (iPads et al)
- Smartphones (iPhone, Android, Blackberry)
If you know anything about basic sleep hygiene, we’re always told to turn off extra light an hour or more before we go to bed. It gives your body a chance to adapt to the dark, produce melatonin, and get your circadian rhythms back in sync. The extra “chatter” the electronics may cause when you go to bed – thinking about provocative stuff – doesn’t help either.
It’s good advice to have an electronics-free cool-down period before bed, and it could have a major impact on the quality of your sleep. If you find that you cannot avoid the toys, try some of these options to filter or reduce the light that your eyes intercept:
- Glasses that block out blue light are expensive, but if you do a lot of work at night, they’re probably worth it. Blue is the most disruptive color of light at night.
- There’s a program you can install on your Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone or iPad called F.lux. It changes the light produced by your electronic screen based on the time of day – you tell it where you live, and it know’s when the sun rises and sets and adjusts the computer display accordingly.
- Dim your lights at night, and if you have to use one, make it red. Red light has a minimal effect on suppressing melatonin production, and causes the least strain on your eyes (this is why people who need night vision use red lights).
- Get bright sunlight during the day. Make the contrast between day lighting and night lighting huge! Let your body understand the difference between day and night in your world. This is good advice for all of us, all the time.
If you remember to turn down your lights at night, avoid electronics within an hour or two of going to bed, and use some method of reducing essential electronic light you’ll find that your “sleep drive” becomes stronger, sleep comes quicker, and sleep lasts longer.
All it takes is a little discipline…