Once upon a time, I lived a fairly normal and routine life. I woke up around 7:00 every morning, ate some breakfast, went to class, made my way to work, and came home and dozed off at a decent hour. Over time, I started going to bed later...and later...and later. Now, it's to the point that my body probably doesn't even have a circadian rhythm anymore. I'm awake until I can't function anymore and I wake up about the same time every morning, regardless of how long – or little – I've been sleeping. What happened exactly?
As much as I would love to blame it on my new neighbors blaring Dora the Explorer at 2 AM or randomly vacuuming throughout the night, technology is to blame. I bought my first smartphone, a PS3, and other tinker-toys and my sleeping habits went down the drain. The more gadgets and gizmos I get my hands on, the worse it gets. Based on a study done by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), I'm not alone.
It isn't just the use of technology alone though, it's use during a very critical time. The study found that 95% of the people surveyed use electronic devices (computer, TV, cell phone, etc.) within the hour before bed. This can affect the quality of sleep, the time that you may fall asleep, and much more. Charles Czeisler, PhD, MD, of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital states:
“Artificial light exposure between dusk and the time we go to bed at night suppresses release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, enhances alertness and shifts circadian rhythms to a later hour—making it more difficult to fall asleep,” and that the study “reveals that light-emitting screens are in heavy use within the pivotal hour before sleep. Invasion of such alerting technologies into the bedroom may contribute to the high proportion of respondents who reported that they routinely get less sleep than they need.”
After I finish working each night, I turn on Netflix and watch an episode or two of some of my favorite shows, play video games, tweet, text friends, catch up on blogs and Facebook, and more. Before I know it, it's usually 4 AM or later. Even when I do fall asleep at a decent hour – usually because I can't keep my eyes open any longer – the quality of sleep is terrible and I wake up groggy and unrested. I've talked with several friends and family members about it and many of them suffer from the same problems.
I've been dealing with this terrible case of insomnia for the past year or more. Who knew that all of my technology was the root of the problem? (I did, I just refused to admit it.)
For better sleep habits, NSF suggests that you remove all technology from your bedroom and that if you have to use a device with a back-lit display at night, turn down the brightness. Allison Harvey, PhD, behavioral sleep expert at UC Berkley, says, “Create a relaxing wind-down routine and turn down the lights. Make your bedroom a sanctuary from the worries of your day.”
If you are having problems sleeping, the National Sleep Foundation has composed the following list of things to try:
- Set and stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same times each day.
- Expose yourself to bright light in the morning and avoid it at night. Exposure to bright morning light energizes us and prepares us for a productive day. Alternatively, dim your lights when it's close to bedtime.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise in the morning can help you get the light exposure you need to set your biological clock. Avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime if you are having problems sleeping.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Allow enough time to wind down and relax before going to bed.
- Create a cool, comfortable sleeping environment that is free of distractions. If you're finding that entertainment or work-related communications are creating anxiety, remove these distractions from your bedroom.
- Treat your bed as your sanctuary from the stresses of the day. If you find yourself still lying awake after 20 minutes or so, get up and do something relaxing in dim light until you are sleepy.
- Keep a "worry book" next to your bed. If you wake up because of worries, write them down with an action plan, and forget about them until morning.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages, chocolate and tobacco at night.
- Avoid large meals and beverages right before bedtime.
- No nightcaps. Drinking alcohol before bed can rob you of deep sleep and can cause you to wake up too early.
- Avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, ask your doctor or pharmacist if your medications might be contributing to your sleep problem.
- No late-afternoon or evening naps, unless you work nights. If you must nap, keep it under 45 minutes and before 3:00 pm.
All of this makes perfect sense and I plan on trying quite a few of these, if not all of them. This means no more Netflix on the iPad while in bed, no more hacking my Android devices into the wee hours of the morning, and no more late night tweeting. It's going to be a hard change to make, but I think a good night's rest, for once, is worth shutting down some of my devices a little earlier.
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