This story originally appeared on the FerensteinWire, a syndicated news service. Follow the author on Twitter at @ferenstein.
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 Harvard Medical School found that reading electronics before bed resulted in substantially worse Rapid Eye Movement, otherwise known as REM sleep, the stage of deep sleep associated with peak mental performance.
Why Does Light Interfere With Sleep?
Our sleep problems have slowly been getting worse since the invention of the lightbulb. Artificial light contains the full spectrum of light, including the blue spectrum of a brightly lit sky. The full spectrum of light inhibits the production of the “sleep hormone” melatonin, so that we can stay sprite during the work day. 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 the 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 Center for Disease Control estimates that one-third of Americans experience and complain about poor sleep. And, since 2001, The National Sleep foundation finds that Americans report a 20 minute drop in sleep, on average (from 7 hours to 6.7 hours).
The closer electronics get to our eyes, from street lamps to smartphones — the worse the impact.
Fortunately, there are a few tricks to help reverse the course and get a good night’s sleep.
My first and favorite trick are my blueblocker sunglasses.
Blueblockers are special orange-tinted sunglasses that filter out the blue spectrum of light.
These glasses have been used in medical studies to help adolescents who suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD) get a restful night’s sleep. They’re also super cheap; I put on my $15 pair about an hour before I want to go to sleep.
Sure, I look silly, but its worth it. Using a sleep tracking device from Basis, I found that my REM sleep improved 5 percent during nights when I wear the blueblockers. REM sleep typically fluctuates between 20 to 30 percent as a percent of my night’s sleep, so 5 percent is a big deal.
Second, Install f.lux
f.lux is a free computer program that automatically tints monitor color a brownish hue as the sun sets.
This brown 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 light bulb.
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 that were taught mindful meditation improved sleep better than participants who practiced good sleep hygiene alone (like going to bed 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.