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Electronics are wreaking havoc on our sleep. Late night reading on smartphones and tablets bombards our eyes with artificial light, tricking our brains into being alert right before we attempt to fall asleep.
A recent experimental study from the Harvard Medical School found that reading electronics before bed resulted in substantially worse Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, the stage of deep sleep associated with peak mental performance.
The 3 tricks outlined in more detail below are:
- Wearing blueblocker glasses
- Using the f.lux program on your laptop and mobile devices
- Daytime meditation
Why Does Light Interfere With Sleep?
Our sleep problems have slowly been getting worse since the invention of the lightbulb. The full spectrum of light inhibits production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Under natural conditions, light keeps us awake during the day and darkness signals our body to rest after sundown.
Indeed, a brand new study on the relaxed life of rural Brazilians, finds that residents sleep cycle is neatly aligned with setting and rising of the sun. These Brazilians are more likely to drift asleep shortly after sundown—9:20 p.m.—and wake up with the sun, around 6:30 a.m.
In contrast, city folk in London typically fall asleep around 11:15 p.m. and rise to a bright sky at 8:30 a.m.
As a result of the pervasive use of electronics, our sleep is getting worse. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that a third of Americans complain of poor sleep. The National Sleep Foundation, meanwhile, found that even though Americans are sleeping longer these days—7.6 hours on weekdays in 2014 compared to 6.9 hours in 2002—our sleep quality is worse (35% of survey respondents reported “fair or poor” sleep in 2014 compared to 27% in 2002).
The closer electronics get to our eyes, the worse the impact.
3 Tricks To Stop The Artificial Light Onslaught
Fortunately, there are a few tricks to help reverse the course and get a good night’s sleep.
Wear Blueblocker Sunglasses
Blueblockers are special orange tinted sunglasses that filter out the bluespectrum of light. They’ve been used in medical studies to help adolescents who suffer from ADHD get a restful night’s sleep. They’re super cheap; I put on a $15 pair about an hour before I want to go to sleep.
Sure, I look silly, but its worth it. Using a Basis Band smart watch, I found that my REM sleep improved 5% during nights when I wear the blueblockers. REM sleep normally fluctuates between 20–30% as a percent of my night’s sleep, so 5% is a big deal.
F.lux is a free computer program that automatically filters out blue wavelengths from your display as the sun sets. The remaining reddish light mimics the light from a roaring fire, which was the major source of night-time light our ancestors experienced before the advent of the lightbulb.
F.lux is available for Mac and Windows computers as well as iPhones and iPads. Similar programs exist for Android and other devices.
One of the most pernicious effects of electronics is stress. Being constantly wired brings both good and bad stimulation all the time. We rarely relax.
In a recently study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, older adults who practiced mindful meditation improved sleep better than participants who practiced good sleep hygiene alone (like going to be at a regular time each night).
Mindful meditation is simply the practice of nonjudgmental introspection in a relaxed state with controlled breathing. I like to meditate throughout the day, since daytime stress can impact sleep.
That’s it; three simple hacks to wrestle back your sleep from electronics. Sleep tight.