How Gadgets and Gizmos WIll Blow A Good Night’s Sleep
Sleep is one of the most important things we can do for our brain. Studies have confirmed that as we slumber, the brain performs critical housekeeping tasks that clear away the debris of the day’s work and help reset and restore important nervous networks, preparing them to operate at peak efficiency the next day. These nervous networks control your emotions, cognitive abilities, energy levels, hormones, sexual function, immune system and metabolism…. Just to name a few.
It’s no surprise then, that sleep deprivation will negatively impact almost every function in your body. The negative health consequences of sleep deprivation are well known: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal disorders, weight gain, impaired memory and cognitive function and even cancer. Unfortunately, the quality and the quantity of our sleep has suffered in today’s culture. Humans are sleeping much less than they did in the past. One of the biggest contributors to our sleep problems is the use of artificial lighting and electronics at night.
It’s All About Light
The quality and the quantity of light that we let into our world can profoundly affect the quality and quantity of our sleep. This is because light is the primary driver of our circadian rhythm – an ancient neuro-endocrine pathway that has controlled our daily life cycles for tens of thousands of years. In effect, this is our internal timekeeping clock. This clock tells us when to get up and get ready for work and when to hit the hay, and is wired to respond directly to what the sun is doing (i.e. daylight and darkness). This is all controlled by a little bump under your brain called the pineal gland. This gland secretes the powerful hormone melatonin, which helps us to nod off at night.
Natural sunlight or other bright light during the day improves daytime energy and function by suppressing melatonin. It is primarily the light in the blue wavelengths that stimulates the eyes and communicates with our brain to rev up its activity, improving alertness, performance and mood (sunlight contains all the colors in the visible spectrum – it’s mostly the blue color that tweaks your brain). Some clinics even use blue light therapy to treat depression and blue light bulbs in office settings can reduce fatigue and improve the mood, performance and sleep of employees. Blue wavelength light is most prominent in the morning and midday sun.
Blue light exposure during the evening causes problems. The most common source of blue light exposure after the sun sets is from our gadgets – light bulbs, computers, televisions and cell phones. They emit blue wavelength light which tricks our brains into thinking that it’s daytime. They suppress melatonin, and remember melatonin is what tells the brain it’s time to go nighty night. This significantly impacts the quantity and quality of our sleep.
The Blue Light By-Pass
So what are we to do? It’s not practical to trash our gadgets just so we can get a little more shut-eye.
- Stop watching TV and turn off bright household lights at least two hours prior to bedtime.
- Replace the reading lights in your bedroom with bulbs that emit more light in the red or orange part of the spectrum.
- Install a program called F.lux on your computer.
This software will adjust the color temperature of your computer screen according to location and time of day. You can also get an app that blocks blue light for your smartphone.
- Use blue light blocking glasses at night (amber colored glasses).
These glasses can block out almost all blue light wavelengths creating a sort of “physiological darkness”. Studies have shown that these glasses increase melatonin production in the evening which improves sleep, cognitive function and mood.
- Get tons of blue light exposure in the day.
Probably at least 20 minutes soon after awakening and then again mid afternoon. This will light up your brain at the appropriate time of day setting you up for a good night sleep.