Too much technology?
You’re lying in bed, lit by the blue glow from your tablet, whilst you read a recommended downloaded novel. A reminder pops up about the conference call you need to make the next day, you then have one last quick check of your emails. You decide that you will reply to just one that looks important. The time on your device now says 1.30am and you can’t believe how it got so late. You double-check the alarm on the same device…better set another half an hour later-in case the first doesn’t wake you….you’ll have to be up in five hours.
Sound familiar? We live in a busy, multitasking world and we have designed the most amazing technology that we could have only dreamt of a decade ago. But this technology that keeps us fully engaged and alert during the day unfortunately does the same at night – when the stimulation and alertness means you stay awake.
The devices that have become part of people’s lives across the globe cause are causing sleep problems. They lead to too many stimulating activities and they are so much brighter and bluer than anything we used to see at night.
We evolved to be incredibly sensitive to the timing, intensity and colour of light around us. Before Edison launched the light bulb our body clocks were reset with great precision by increasing daylight at dawn as we woke, and decreasing at night as we prepared to sleep.
In fact, although artificial lighting changed society forever, the early lights bulbs themselves were far less of a problem than modern light emitting devices such a tablets and smartphones.
Cells in the back of our eye receive light signals that send messages to the central body clock in our brain (suprachiasmatic nucleus). At night part of our brain (pineal gland) produces a hormone called melatonin. Think of this as the ‘hormone of darkness’ that helps open the gate for sleep.
Bright light at night switches off the brains production of melatonin. This makes us take longer to fall asleep and we wake up less alert. But it’s not just the brightness of the light – it’s the colour. Natural daylight contains a lot of blue light and we are sensitive to that type of light – it’s the same type of light emitted by popular electronic devices such as tablets.
Fortunately this is one of the great areas where you can change things around really easily. There are a number of options that will start working on the night you start using them!
- The best-though not necessarily the easiest solution is to just avoid all light-emitting devices in the bedroom. Keep tablets, smartphones and television out of the bedroom. Read a paper book, listen to music, meditate mindfully, and reconnect with your partner-anything that doesn’t require charging-up!
- If step one is too tricky then just turn everything off one hour before your chosen ‘settle to sleep’ time. This means phones turned to airplane mode, or off all together to prevent alerts and messages causing disturbance. Avoid reading and replying to a ‘last thing at night email.’ It will keep you awake and it will be one you would have written so much better in the morning after a good night’s sleep.
- Download some of the great software that cleverly alters the colours that are put out by your computer or tablet at night. One example is f.lux available for most devices now. It’s also possible to alter the intensity of light on all devices and ‘invert’ colours on many smart phones within your settings.
- Buy some cheap lightweight orange tinted glasses. These are readily available and often marketed for shift-workers-for the same reasons we have talked about. These will really effectively block the blue light that is the problem at night.
Good luck and happy healthy sleeping!