Unless you really HAVE been living under a rock, you likely are very much aware that there has been a lot of information in the recent past regarding the importance of sleep. We know that driving while sleep deprived is at least as harmful as driving drunk (and therefore just as important that drivers make a personal commitment to never drive drowsy in much the same way we make a commitment to never drive under the influence of alcohol). We know that different people require different amounts of daily sleep for optimal functioning, but that the average amount is around eight hours, unless you are a teenager or young adult and then you need more. We know that sleep is critical for not only physical restoration, but also for cognitive restoration (not only does lack of sleep make you feel physically weaker and less-coordinated, and achy too, it also makes it harder to articulate in conversation, more difficult to concentrate, and also contributes to difficulties in memory and learning). A very new study even suggests that older adults who get less sleep experience a speedier deterioration of brain structures (Lehman 2014).
Here’s something related to sleep that you may or may not know: light does more for us than illuminate our world. It also works with the brain and body to signal hormones and regulate sleep/wake cycles. The light receptors in our eyes respond to all visible light, and have evolved to do so basically to help our bodies adjust to a 24 hour cycle related to the natural light and dark of day and night. The blue waves of light peak in mid-day, when the sun is at its brightest and shiniest, but we don’t even have to have our eyes open in order for the receptors to detect the blue light. So, blue light provides a special function, which is to help us feel alert and awake. As a matter of fact, there have been recent experiments using blue lights in car interiors in order to help drivers feel alert while driving in the dark, and it appears to be an effective tool (Taillard 2012). Cool!
It would logically follow, however, that if blue light works great to keep us alert, it of course has the opposite effect on our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. So, while blue light may belong in car interiors, it is the enemy in bed. I am still amazed at the number of people I know who complain about insomnia issues yet list watching television or spending time on the computer as a way they try to fall asleep at night. A friend of mine recently complained that his toddler was waking up in the night, and to keep the toddler quiet so that others in the house could continue to sleep, he and his 2 year-old watched a video from 2:00 a.m. until 4:00 a.m. What?! I know. Television, like other electronics, emits blue light and therefore sends signals via photoreceptors in the eyes to the brain to slow or shut down the release of melatonin, the body’s main sleep hormone. Smart phones, iPads, computers, etc. are no friend to the person who would just like to fall asleep.
In conclusion, you know that sleep is very important to your health and well-being. Thus, as part of your efforts to get that sleep you need, turn off the electronics! I mean it!
peace and love,
Hecht, J. (2012). Better than sunshine. New Scientist, 214 (2871), 42-45.
Lehman, S. (2014, July 10). Less sleep may accelerate brain aging. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/r-shorter-sleep-may-speed-brain-aging-2014-10.
Taillard, J., Capelli, A., Sagaspe, P., Anund, A., Akerstedt, T. &Phillip, P. (2012). In-car nocturnal blue light exposure improves motorway driving: a randomized controlled trial. PloS One, 7(10), 106.