Lately, I’ve been waking after bad dreams with night sweats. When I wake, the bed is soaked in sweat and I am usually freezing cold in dripping pajamas. It is a result of anxiety (body goes into fight or flight, blood rushes to areas to do this, body heats up as a result and then sweats to cool down). Unfortunately there is no cure, only to try to control the anxiety during the day.
One of the things that I have noticed keeps my mind buzzing and concerned with work is social media. I mentioned all this to my doctor and she recommended putting the phone/computer away earlier. I’ve heard the advice before, but as a blogger you can imagine it is hard to do – work can stretch to all hours of the night if you let it. What I had not heard before was the research around electronic devices effect on sleep. I’m a sucker for logic and this information is what helped me reduce my screen time. Now I am sleeping better and paired with some meditation at night, it has caused my night sweats to reduce.
So how does the light from screens affect your sleep?
It ruins your sleep-wake patterns by:
- Reducing melatonin production which affects/delays the circadian rhythm (see below); and
- Keeping your mind active with the constant information you are asking it to process (easy to understand).
What the heck is melatonin?
Melatonin is the hormone that is produced when it is dark to make you sleepy and influences the circadian rhythms.
Right, then what are the circadian rhythms and what do they do?
The Circadian rhythm refers to our internal cycle of physiological, behavioral and biochemical processes. These rhythms (amongst other things) can impact your sleep-wake cycle. They are synchonised by external factors such as temperature, nutrition, meal timing, social interactions, medicines and light/dark. Although, light is the primary factor that influences these cycles.
Why is the circadian rhythm so affected by light?
Circadian rhythms are controlled by the body’s ‘master clock’ (20,000 nerve cells called the suprachiasmatic nucleus). The master clock controls the release of melatonin (the sleepy hormone). The master clock is located over the optic nerves, whose role is to relay information from the eyes to the brain, which means the master clock, receives knowledge about received light.
Types of light that most affect the circadian cycle
This circadian cycle is most suppressed though when the eyes are exposed to short wavelength blue light. This is the type of light in devices, which is held close to the face. Shock and horror! For thousands of years our bodies have deemed blue light as daylight, not Facebook stalking or reruns of Friends.
Potential lawsuits against companies that use blue light
As a side note, my prediction is as more research arises, we increase our use of screens and designs move away from using blue light, there will be a few who attempt lawsuits as a result of the health impacts of constant use of blue light. The research is heading towards supporting such actions as Harvard researchers (http://www.medicaldaily.com/exposure-artificial-light-electronics-disrupts-sleep-pattern-causes-decreased-melatonin-and-247286) conducted an experiment comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light to exposure to green light of comparable brightness. The blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much (3 hours vs. 1.5 hours). Now that this research has arisen, wouldn’t it be negligible for companies not to do further research into producing products with varying types of light? Perhaps they already are. How successful it would be in the courts, would depend on a number of factors – but imagine the potential for a class action! Sorry, the lawyer in me is getting excited.
This blew my mind!!
The effect of blue light devices on the circadian cycles produces a group of people who define themselves as night owls. Charles Czeisler, Ph.D. and professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School wrote that the extended use of electronic devices at night can result in a domino effect. The “second wind” feeling that people generally experience mid-day soon appears at nightfall. Do you ever have this?? I do!
So what’s the solution apart from joining an Amish community?
- Professor Rajaratnam from Monash University’s School of Psychology and Psychiatry says, “We would recommend that these devices are shut down or closed off up to two hours before bed time, but at least one hour before bed time, to try to reduce the impact of these light sources on sleep.”
- Change your reading light – read by candle light or red light which has the least impact on circadian cycles.
- Buy funky amber glasses like this to reduce the blue light.
- Expose yourself to lots of light during the day (natural or devices) to help your body recognise it is time to sleep in the evening when it is without the light.
- Download a program called f.lux to your devices which will adapt to the time of day being warm light at night and blue light like sunlight during the day. I haven’t tried this but have read that it is good.
For more sleep tips, check out this great article by Brosa!
Do you struggle with your sleep? What helps you sleep?
PS. after too much social media last night and late night research for this post (yes I’m a total hypocrite), my phone died this morning – coincidence?