A good night’s sleep is a crucial aspect to overall health and well-being, yet so many Americans are lacking in that department. A 2013 Gallup poll found that 40% of American adults get less than the recommended amount of sleep. That’s almost half. The study also found that the average amount of hours of sleep Americans get each night dropped by more than a full hour from 1942 to 1990, and that number has stayed consistently lower since then.
The advent of new technology and a more fast-paced, distracting lifestyle has made it even more difficult to get adequate amounts of sleep in the 21st century. We have a whole slew of sleep hindrances that have become integrated into our daily lives, and it doesn’t seem like it will be slowing down any time soon. So in the modern world, with modern technology, how can we adapt to ensure that we get the right amount of rest each night?
Light and Dark
There are several factors to consider, and the first is light. Light has a huge impact on our brain’s internal rhythm. An article from Harvard’s medical school states that light of any kind interrupts the brain’s ability to produce melatonin (a hormone that induces sleep,) but blue light does so more than any other on the spectrum. This presents a major problem because nearly all modern electronics emit light from the blue spectrum: televisions, computer screens, smartphones, tablets, and e-readers are all part of that gang.
This is why it is so very highly recommended that you stay away from screens for an hour or two before bedtime. If this is feasible for you, it’s important to at least make an attempt. It is so hard to disconnect from our devices for even a few hours nowadays, but it can have several positive impacts, even more so than just better sleep.
I myself am prone to wind down before bed with a movie or television show, even though I know it’s bad for me. I try as hard as I can to stay away from work email and social media, for reasons we discuss later, but sometimes I just don’t have the energy to read a book and I live alone, so television is a pretty easy option to settle on if I’m not tired enough to sleep.
I think this is a fairly common issue for many Americans, which is why orange glasses have become a thing. Orange glasses claim to neutralize blue light, which in turn can help us sleep if we cannot stay away from electronic devices before bed. There are few, if any, studies that show significant changes, but many feel they do sleep better after using them, so they might be worth a shot if you have a hard time freeing yourself from screens.
The other side of the light issue has to do with our circadian rhythm, or “biorhythms.” While some are born with interrupted rhythms or acquire them from certain illnesses, both mental and physical, those of us with healthy biorhythms have a better time falling asleep at night and getting adequate amounts of sleep. The other thing impacting modern biorhythms is odd schedules and off hours.
Ideally, everyone would wake up in the morning, spend their day working, recreating, etc., and then go to sleep at night when the sun goes down. Our biorhythms are set to be disrupted very little by seasonal changes. But in the modern world, not all of us have a nine to five schedule, and even then, family and social obligations often keep us up later and in bed for less time than is ideal.
One of the ways we can combat this issue is by controlling our light levels throughout the day. If you work graveyard or other irregular shifts, use blackout blinds or another form of sun-blocking window covering to keep sunlight from leaking in while you’re supposed to be asleep, and consider using a light that emulates the sun’s spectrum while awake at night. You can also utilize a dawn simulator that gradually lights up like a sunrise and wakes you with gently building, relaxing sounds, to make your entire morning experience more natural, no matter what time you wake up.
The other issue our electronic obsession poses is the distraction/function paradigm. Modern technological devices cause us not only distraction, but also force us to multi-task much more often than we used to. So many studies have shown the danger of using electronics while doing everyday things like walking, talking, or worse, driving.
It is apparent that overuse of things like tablets and smartphones overstimulates our brains and keeps them on edge, which poses a problem when it comes time to wind down. By keeping your brain constantly engaged, modern technology tricks the brain into thinking it needs to be alert, which makes it very difficult to fall asleep.
Simply interacting with electronics flurries our minds, but specific things can exacerbate the problem. An angry email or irritating social media post can cause us to get upset, while an inspiring movie can set our minds off into the daydream land of wonderful possibility. Tapping into work when you know you can’t finish it before bed can release the stress monster, and watching your favorite TV drama only to find your favorite character is offed can bring about significant amounts of sadness. Your mood before bedtime can affect your ability to fall asleep, which is another reason why it’s helpful to distance yourself from technology before bed.
It’s also important to try and keep bedtime a relaxing and peaceful time for your family or housemates, if you don’t live alone. You can’t always avoid an argument or bad news in the hour or so before bedtime, but do make an attempt to not discuss things that may upset you. You can also do a calm activity that everyone enjoys.
Sleeping in the 21st century is more difficult than ever before. With a little information and thought, it is possible to get adequate sleep, which is one of the most important aspects of a happy, healthy life. Good luck and sweet dreams!
About the Author
AJ Earley is a personal chef, freelance writer, travel junkie, and root beer float enthusiast from Boise, Idaho... and now, a contributing writer at InnerSelf.com