Geek Sleep: 5 Steps for healthy slumber

icon-sleep Sleep isn’t easy. Most sleep studies show that most of us don’t get enough of it. Health pros agree we need 7-8 hours of sleep per night to make life longer, more enjoyable and avoid physical and mental breakdown. Yet we make it tougher on ourselves every day because of the age we live in. We’re surrounded with tech and totally into the “always on” mentality. Our tech doesn’t sleep, but we probably should.

Our circadian rhythms control when we should be awake and when we shouldn’t. These are based on daylight, so I can see where it might have been easier to keep a steady sleep schedule in a log cabin in the 1800’s. Since we’ve replaced the natural light with artificial, our circadian rhythms get out of whack. There’s daylight at night and our bodies react by suppressing our natural sleep inducing chemicals. We provide that daylight with our electronic devices. They are bright, with white and blue light, simulating daytime.

The main chemical we depend on is melatonin. Melatonin is responsible for putting us to sleep at night, its levels rising in the body during that time. During the day, the amount of melatonin lowers so we can function, be alert, and not fall asleep in the cube.

I take an extra dose of melatonin on a nightly basis, obviously because I’m not a great sleeper, and I wasn’t even before I changed my career to technology. I didn’t sleep as a basketball coach because of that whole win-loss thing. And the referees. Now, I can’t sleep partly because of my tech. Big screen TV, PC, and the two Androids (phone and tablet)… they’re all on with bright screens.

The bright whites and blues, even in a darkened room, will inhibit the melatonin production in the body (or as John Mayer would say it, ‘bahhhdy’). Still, I need my tech at night, well… I want my tech at night, so I needed to find a way to have both: Tech and sleepiness. The good news is, I found it. And it’s working. My sleep patterns are much better, almost 7.5 hours of deep sleep per night most of the time. Weekends don’t count, as I’m not a big fan of an early bedtime on a Saturday night. I’ve created a sleep-friendly environment using the 5 steps below.

Step 1: Download and install f.lux on the tech you use at night.

For me, I installed f.lux on the PC and the tablet. F.lux will change the intensity and color of the screen, eliminating most of the white and blue bright lights based on the sunset/sunrise times that you live in. At sunset, the screen will dim, simulating nighttime. You can choose the incandescent level and disable it for an hour at a time with one click. Once I got this in place, I could feel a much lower level of eye strain, which helped fatigue to set in as the night went on. At sunrise, the screen will brighten to normal and stay that way until sunset.

Step 2: Add a customized picture setting to the TV

I changed my plasma TV Standard setting to the lowest brightness level, a very low picture level and the tint to give a more red hue. Now, this isn’t great for sports and movies, but it works fine for standard shows. As the night moves forward, about an hour before bed, I’ll change the brightness of the TV to my new settings.

Step 3: Add the Red. Dim red light has the least effect on melatonin suppression and is much easier on the eyes.

I wanted the white lights off, but I didn’t want to be bumping into things, so I purchased a 30 dollar table lamp at Lowe’s and a red light bulb to go in it. The lamp has three dim settings and it lights up the room I spend the most time in a comfortable glow. Next I added two red nightlights to the bedroom and one for the bathroom. The goal was to eliminate all white light from 20:30 on (that’s 8:30pm for you people still not using military time…why are you not doing that?).

Step 4: Prepare the bedroom

I sleep better in the cold, so cooling down the bedroom a couple hours before I go in there helps. Opening the windows and shutting the door allows the room to cool. I also turn on the red nightlights, the fan and straighten out the sheets and blankets a bit. The key is to make the room as comfortable as possible.

Step 5: Chill out

Get mentally ready for sleep an hour or so before. Let go of the day, stop thinking about what needs to be done tomorrow (it will still be there, so let it go for a while) and move into a condition that promotes relaxation. With all the changes to lighting, the tech devices can now be better involved in the nightly rituals.

Following those five steps has greatly increased my chances at a good night’s sleep and the benefits have been immediately realized. I still take melatonin every night, but now it seems to have a stronger effect in a shorter amount of time.

Psychology Today


Categories: IT Pros

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