So I’m sure we’re all familiar with the phrase:
“Work smarter, not harder.”
Personally, I can attest to the success you’ll have if you work smarter rather than longer harder hours that typically drain you and decrease your work quality instead of improve. But like many others in the world, for awhile, I did not apply this same concept to my sleep though sleeping is one of the most essential components to success in anything and everything – especially work.
It was several years ago that I first took any interest in sleeping and sleep hygiene. At the time what seemed like insomnia was getting the better of me, causing me to stay up very late if not all night. In general I am already a night person, someone who stays up and becomes more active at night than during the day. But staying up until the early hours of the morning with little to no sleep is not good and neither is sleeping all morning/afternoon when the rest if the world is awake and having its most productive time of the day. So that’s what led me to my first steps into sleep hygiene, which was downloading “Sleep As Android” and then subsequently the “Twilight” app.
The purpose of the Sleep As Android app was to monitor my sleep and see not only how I was sleeping at night, but improve my sleep by using alarms meant to wake me when my body was in light sleep rather than deep sleep. This meant it would be easier to wake and would give me the opportunity to track my good sleep, ensuring I was getting enough of the proper cycles. It even had functions to record my sleep, play relaxing sounds before, and help induce lucid dreaming after being asleep.
Fast forward today and I no longer and hadn’t used the sleep monitoring or natural wake alarms for some time, as I have confirmed what I thought at the time I was using the app back then: the cycle monitoring is extremely inaccurate without an EEG and so I was not guaranteed any accurate data. Admittedly I recall waking up easier with the natural wake alarms compared to ordinary alarms, but this was years ago and at best was still an estimate of what cycle I was truly on. The quality of sleep data was not even worth trying to use as vibrations and sounds are not enough to monitor quality. I still use the app for handy alarms with captchas however, which are great for combatting oversleep. You can set the alarms with various level math equations, puzzles, and even set QR codes that need to be scanned before the alarm shuts down. That and the ability to set snooze times/restrictions make the app very useful still.
The Twilight app that I downloaded for my Android phone then is something I still use to this day also. This app is very useful in reducing the amount of blue light you receive when looking at your phone, blue light essentially being the #1 culprit of ruining majority of the world’s sleep at night.
But that’s about as far as I went into exploring sleep hygiene at the time; besides trying to force myself to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night and giving myself an extra 30-60 minutes just to fall asleep. Now that I’ve learned so much more about sleep and what we should be doing, I know that even those steps were not nearly enough.
For one, if you’ve been following my blog until now you know that sleeping 8 hours straight (known as mono-phasic sleep) is not natural. The most natural way to sleep is actually biphasic, or sleeping in two segmented periods with a short wake time between. You may sleep 8 hours, you might sleep less, but the point is you should not be asleep for so long in one period. The fact is that’s what majority of the population does however.
To make matters worse, not only are we sleeping the wrong way but thanks to blue light we are staying awake much later than our natural circadian rhythm dictates. Your natural circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle, a clock running in the back of your brain that controls when you should be awake and when you should be sleeping. Naturally, our circadian rhythm pushes us to sleep once the sun has set: between 6:00PM-10:00PM. Ideally, that’s the best time frame to go to bed for most people. But again, thanks to modern science we have artificial lighting that allows us to keep working and otherwise living after our natural light has gone away. While this can lead to more productivity or pleasure in the day, it can also wreck havoc on your sleep. To understand how let’s talk more about what blue light is.
Blue light, as all other light, is on the light spectrum – which dictates all color. Blue light in particular has smaller wavelengths than for example red light, which means blue light has more energy. I look at it as smaller waves means more movement, and movement translates into energy (but I’m no scientist on the subject). In healthy dosages blue light helps you to produce the right amount of vitamin D, and as it has been proven to stop melatonin production it also helps to wake you up and keep your body going throughout the day. But as blue light already makes up a third of all visible light and is essentially everywhere – computers, phones, clocks, night lights, humidifiers, LEDs, almost anything emitting light – we are not just getting enough of it but we are getting blue light long after our eyes should have stopped seeing it. Some studies up to now show that melatonin production is delayed up to 2-3 hours after being exposed to blue light, and after exposure to as little of 200 lux. To give you an idea of how that translates into the light we see, the sun emits around 32,000-100,000 lux with direct sunlight. Keep in mind the measurement lux is how much light is reaching a certain area at that moment, not over time. That means that even a moderately lit living room emitting 50 lux would very quickly get you to 200 lux within minutes. Office lighting alone is usually no lower than 320-500 and can reach close to the sun’s lux level. Now factor in your typical night lighting along with all the devices, clocks, etc. lying around that emit light. We are literally burning our eyes all day with not only blue light but UV light that is also present in artificial light and can cause similar effects to sunburn – even cancer or according to certain studies macular degeneration (loss of eye sight due to eye strain).
So considering that the Twilight app only blocks blue light from my phone not other devices, and that studies are showing green light may be just as bad as blue light, clearly it was not enough to improve my sleep. I had a night time setting on my Macbook as well, but what about the television and the regular lights in my home? Most people may be okay with the idea of going to bed and losing 2-3 hours of restfulness (even if you’re actually sleeping) because they’re sleeping 8-12 hours anyway. Well, if I’m only sleeping 4.5 hours straight (E2) and was sleeping 3.5 (E3) then clearly losing 2-3 hours of rest is a HUGE deal. The truth however is it’s a big deal for everyone. It just took me doing polyphasic sleep to jump start my desire to fix it. But majority of the population is currently sleep deprived due to the fact that they are trying to remain asleep for 8 hours and usually failing, which is then made harder by exposing one’s eyes to blue light right up until bed.
You might be thinking, “I’m not sleep deprived!”
But what are you judging that on? How you feel at this moment?
Our bodies sometimes seem like such delicate biological machines but the truth is they will keep on pushing until we’re just about ready to collapse. That is when our bodies typically start to show more severe symptoms. But if you’ve ever woken up feeling groggy and like you need a cup of coffee to keep going after sleeping 6-8 hours, then you are experiencing just one symptom of sleep deprivation. It is not normal to get a good night’s rest to then wake up feeling sleepy and needing to take a stimulant. It is not normal to think, “I slept a little over what I needed but I’m still tired, maybe even more so than before I slept.” I know I’m not the only one who would wake up in the middle of the night or stay in bed an extra 30 minutes after waking, even a couple hours because my body is just not feeling ready to get up. These are signs telling you that for one, your body wants to get up after a few hours of sleep. That’s why you’re tossing and turning around 3:00AM (not demons or ghosts). And two, obviously sleeping 8 hours or more is not good if you feel more tired waking up.
Alternatively, how many of you have slept only 5 or 6 hours to wake up feeling ready to start your day? How many of you have taken a power nap after a long day of school or work to then wake up feeling refreshed and as if you had taken a night’s rest? That’s because it’s more natural to our bodies. You might be thinking, “Well, I still catch up on the sleep the next day” or “If I continue sleeping this way, I’ll crash eventually.” That’s probably true, but again, we are exposing ourselves to blue light right up until sleep. So maybe you slept 6 hours and feel great one night and not the next, but that’s likely because you had REM rebound – a flood of REM sleep due to lack of proper REM before. In other words, your body was so tired that upon sleeping a proper amount it forced you to get the cycles of sleep that you need. But as you haven’t changed your sleeping hygiene and are probably watching TV or on your phone up until bed, you’re not setting yourself up for continued 6 hours of rest (even if you’re reading a book, it’s better but you’re still getting blue and UV light). So the next day of sleeping 6 hours, you’re only resting at most 3-4 hours, without a sleep schedule to help set your circadian rhythm or naps to fulfil your sleep cycle needs. REM rebound will only get you so far, and like I said it’s a response from sleep deprivation. So it’s really the body’s emergency method to make you sleep, not something you want to happen often.
Other signs of sleep deprivation are but not limited to: excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, clumsiness, and weight gain or weight loss. In addition, being sleep-deprived affects both the brain and cognitive function. Sleeping is the body and mind’s time to rejuvenate while also organizing everything that has happened in the day. Sleep deprivation impairs this, which is only worse so if you exercise as you need even more rest. So it basically inhibits your memory as well as your physical health, while also suppressing the production of growth hormones.
Now that we understand blue light and sleep deprivation more, I hope you are starting to see why I consider this a “global epidemic.” But if you aren’t there yet, then consider what we do when sleep deprived. To compensate for low energy levels, lack of motivation, and poor memory, most people drink coffee in the morning. Some people drink coffee in the afternoon and even the evening. I won’t get into detail about why it’s bad in this post but caffeine is a drug and it’s something that many people are addicted to. I have heard many times, “My day doesn’t start until I have my coffee”, “I’m not awake until I drink some coffee,” or even “I will get a headache if I do not have my morning coffee.” Sound familiar? Well it doesn’t stop there.
From coffee we then move on to sugary foods, energy drinks, and more bright lighting to keep us awake and feeling good. The average person, at least in the United States of America, consumes extremely unhealthy amounts of sugar throughout the day. You add up all this together with blue light and poor sleep scheduling that goes against your circadian rhythm and you have a perfect reciple for sleep disaster. It’s amazing anyone even sleeps at all – but that’s just sleep deprivation forcing you to sleep. Because despite everything we do to ruin our sleep, our body needs it and will do everything possible to get it. Unfortunately, it’s just not consistent rest that it is able to force and so majority of the time people are feeling unenergized and in need of stimulants to keep going. This is already unhealthy to begin with, but then you have to consider that sleep deprivation eventually (and especially with health like this) leads to depression.
Mental and neuroglical disorders are becoming more prevalent everyday, and whether this is due to better diagnosis, more frequent cases or both, the point is people are not healthy. If you know anything about mental disorders, you probably know that they are usually related to genetics. However, not everyone who is predisposed to cancer actually gets it, and the same is said for mental disorders. Just because you can suffer from depression, anxiety, or borderline personality disorder, does not mean you need to or will. More often than not, traumatic events happen that bring out these disorders. Being unhealthy can not only make this easier but can be a direct cause of a disorder, as proven with sleep deprivation and depression.
So if we are continuously sleep deprived, eating bad food, taking stimulants, and possibly not exercising enough, what do we expect to happen? Well we already have that. Ever wonder why that person at the DMV or in customer service was so rude and looking to fight? We have: aggressive work environments, loud traffic jams, violence in our communities, and a rampant issue with mental disorders – diagnosed and undiagnosed. Of course I am not going to say sleep deprivation is the only cause of all this, but wouldn’t you say it’s a factor? With my profession I believe I have learned enough to make that call but we also have an abundance of research that clearly tells us we are not sleeping properly and that sleep deprivation keeps us from performing the way we normally would if rested. Right now we have a world of sleep deprived humans eating bad food and under stressful work conditions. It’s really not as surprising then to consider where we are with certain global events. Thus, I truly feel that sleep deprivation is a global epidemic.
Now whether you agree, want better sleep, or simply want to put all this talk to the test: what do you do now that you know you’re sleep deprived?
No, you don’t have to sleep 4.5 or 5.17 hours a day like me.
In fact, if you feel you need 8 hours of sleep great! Continue to do so. But let’s talk about what you can do to ensure those 8 hours are restful sleep and not a night of tossing and turning that leads to a groggy morning and slow start.
For one, as you’ve probably guessed by now:
REDUCE BLUE LIGHT.
It is best in my opinion to reduce blue light 3 hours before bed, as everyone’s tolerance for blue light is different and this is the safest way to ensure you are not effected by the time you go to bed. 2 hours before bed is good though. You can start reducing blue light 1 hour before bed and that would help too, but keep in mind that based on your tolerance your melatonin may still be inhibited by the time you are in bed or even sleeping. Also keep in mind that dimmer lights are generally going to be better than brighter lights.
– The easiest way to start this is by using the free Twilight app for Androids I mentioned earlier and an alternative for iPhones. I do not own an iPhone and never have so I do not have a personal recommendation, though you should be able to find an app easily enough by searching “Blue light reduction” or “Blue Light Filter”. Then try some apps out and see what you like best. For tablets you should be able to use the same or similar apps to get the same effect.
– For more recent Macbooks, you can use the default night time settings, which will give your computer an amber filter, but I personally use F.lux. While it’s default color sliders can give you a similar effect to the Mac’s night display, you can further customize it with “Color Effects” to improve its effect. I tried using the “Darkroom” option and it removed all color from my screen except for red, making my computer much safer to use at night (although certain tasks may not be as enjoyable or productive due to lack of color). You can opt to keep your computer screen at more of an amber-ish or faded red color but this will let some blue light through still, and probably a lot of green light, which as I said earlier, can be just as harmful as blue light. For Windows computers you can also use F.lux, and for both Mac and Windows there are other alternatives as well. Again, they should be pretty easy to find with the mentioned search phrases.
– For your television, I have read that certain TVs have night time settings integrated and there are apps you can download for it as well. If you’d rather do it yourself or can’t use one of these options, then you can go into your TV settings and manually adjust the color of your TV. To give you an example, I have a Philips TV which doesn’t seem to have either. Going into the Advanced Settings and Color Alignment I can change my display from a natural or cool tone to that of a warm one. Also in the Color Alignment settings, I add as much red color possible with the Red Offset. In addition to adding the warm red hue, I reduce the backlight of my screen down to 0. While not perfect, this helps to reduce blue light for me and I have definitely noticed a difference both in myself and my partner when we watch TV/game with normal settings compared to the red settings. My TV also remembers my personal settings while giving other preset options, so I can switch back and forth between my personal red setting and the “Game” setting depending on the time of day, for example.
– Now that we’ve got all our electronic devices covered, there’s still one big blue light culprit: our light bulbs. Whether you have traditional bulbs or LEDS (which emit more blue light) you are receiving constant exposure to light, and so handling this is just as important as taking care of your electronics. The easiest solution to this is to buy red light bulbs. As one would expect, these emit only red light and so you can safely illuminate your home without any exposure to blue or green light. Understandably it can be hard to adjust to red lighting, but you will immediately notice yourself becoming sleepy much sooner than you did before with regular lighting. Also, it’s only 2-3 hours before bed so it’s honestly not that bad. You can still see and it is actually relaxing. You might even enjoy using the red lights for other purposes, like parties or a romantic evening. Personally, I have a lamp in my living room with 3 bulbs and 3 individual switches. So I have 2 regular light bulbs for the daytime, and one red bulb for 2 hours before bedtime. I also have another red bulb in the hallway by my restroom, so I can go safely at night. You might opt to have a night lamp that is only for the evening.
– If you want to significantly reduce your blue light exposure, the most efficient method is to wear special glasses in addition to the other things listed above. There are what is known as “computer glasses” and even “computer contacts” that help reduce blue light and eye strain. They are available with and without prescriptions, and come in different varieties. They can have an amber-ish tint, which is meant to filter the light, and come in different styles depending on the company. Truth be told, these kinds of glasses only offer a slight reduction from blue light as they can only block blue light up to a certain level on the light spectrum. Some forms of blue light are too powerful for these glasses. However, if you want to go all out and really get a good’s night rest, the best option is something I’ve mentioned before: red laser glasses. As these are made for professionals using powerful and eye damaging lasers, they ensure the best protection from blue and even green light. They are not made for comfort as amber glasses are, so of course you will only see red. But this is truly the best option, especially for someone like me who is on a polyphasic sleep schedule. I need to ensure I get the best night’s rest with the little I am sleeping and I also need a short period of red light time when I wake up (to help shift my circadian rhythm to the late schedule I have, where I only get 6.5 hours of darkness and wake up with the sun already risen, compared to a recommended natural 8-12 hours of darkness).
Upon taking measures to reduce blue light for both my partner and I already, I promise that you will notice a difference in your sleep if you do the same; even if only using red light bulbs and red filters on electronics.
Other things you should do to help your sleep are:
-Avoid sugary foods and eating 2-3 hours before bed. If you must eat, try at least 1 hour before bed and avoid heavy or starchy foods like potatoes and rice as they will make your body work harder to digest and can turn into sugars while you sleep (not good!). Definitely avoid chips and unhealthy snacks before bed.
-Exercise can help or hinder your sleep; you have to judge how exercise effects you before bed personally. If it keeps you awake and alert, don’t do it. If it makes you more likely to sleep or it’s the only time of day you can workout and it doesn’t keep you awake, great, do it. The same applies for sex before bed.
-Consider doing yoga or meditating before bed rather than watch TV or being on your phone. While meditation and yoga can make you more alert, it shouldn’t get in the way of sleep. But again, use your judgement based on your individual scenario.
-Listen to relaxing sounds during and maybe even before bed. You can choose from meditation music, binaural beats, or white noise accompanied by relaxing sounds. I personally enjoy all 3 but when in a noisy space, white noise such as this seems to help me fall asleep the fastest and remain asleep. It’s surprisingly relaxing. When it comes to these types of songs, you can also select specific binaural/white noise tracks that aid a goal. For example, you can listen to sounds that will help you focus, or help you let go of stress. It might sound hard to believe but look more into binaural beats or how sound effects people/inanimate objects and you’ll be surprised. I recommended you just give it a shot.
-Avoid any kind of stimulant or drugs hours before bed. Stimulants will obviously keep you awake, caffeine being the most popular and having an effect much longer than the time it takes to drink it. Drinking coffee as early as 3:00PM can still keep you awake at night. Everyone has a different tolerance and even if you aren’t wired it can reduce your sleep quality. Even smoking marijuana can have adverse affects on your sleep. There are not a lot of studies on the subject and so we do not have definitive information, but some believe that marijuana can inhibit REM sleep (a vital cycle in your sleep). On the bright side, the studies suggest that only chronic marijuana smokers suffer ill effect while the occasional smoker (possibly up to 5 days of smoking per week) are not effected. Also, if you are truly an insomniac (not someone who is just on the wrong sleep schedule as majority of the population is) then smoking marijuana can help you fall asleep faster and get more SWS (slow wave sleep), or more “deep sleep”. My personal advice is to give yourself at least 2-3 days off from smoking and not smoke 3-4 hours before bed unless absolutely necessary to fall asleep that day.
With all this information gathered from my Aspie tendency to obsess over things, I hope to spread more awareness and aid on the subject, what I consider epidemic, of sleep deprivation. I also hope that readers are encouraged to spread their newfound sleep knowledge with others as well. If you have any questions please feel free to shoot in the comments section!
Thanks for reading and I wish you the best rest!