Do you use your computer and smart phone late at night, perhaps without being aware that the light emitted from these devices adversely affects sleep? Since artificial lighting and electronic devices are such a natural part of our lives, it’s easy to forget that up until very recently, human sleeping patterns were largely controlled by natural patterns of light and dark. When we disrupt this rhythm, as we’ve done in the high-tech modern world, where artificial lighting, computers, smart phones, and other electronic devices are a natural part of our lives, our sleep suffers…
Artificial lighting not only allows us to stay up long after dark, but it also suppresses our melatonin production and messes with our biological clock. Time spent sleeping has plummeted in most industrialized nations since electricity started to march on into our lives in various forms, and insufficient sleep is now a public health epidemic in many parts of the world. Poor or inadequate sleep doesn’t only make you groggy, but it also decreases your athletic performance, messes with your hunger hormones, and increases your risk of many chronic health problems.
So, how can we sleep more and better? Perhaps most importantly, we have to “ancestralize” our sleeping conditions and patterns. As we all know, good health doesn’t come by itself. One has to put in some effort and make a commitment to really get into new and healthy habits. However, small tweaks that don’t really require much work can also make a difference. f.lux – a computer program that makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day – has long been a popular software in the Paleo/ancestral health movement.
Out of curiosity I decided to give it a try about a week ago, and so far I’m impressed. The days where I’ve spent late evenings in front of the computer I notice that I feel sleepier when I go to bed, fall asleep more quickly, and perhaps also sleep better than I did on similar days prior to the installation. Of course, it’s only a small contribution to a healthy diet and lifestyle, but as the entire process of downloading, installing, and configuring the software only takes about a minute, it’s definitely worth the time. For me, the installation of f.lux got me even more interested in taking my sleep to the next level. Although my sleep quality is pretty good, a comparison with our ancient ancestors, who lived in accordance with the natural patterns of light and dark, slept in sensory rich environments, and practised segmented sleep, suggests that I could be doing a lot better.
If you’ve stayed in places with little to no artificial lighting and late night electronic entertainment, you know that it’s usually much easier to get a good night’s sleep when you subject your body to natural patterns of night and dark. Although it’s difficult and impractical to recreate such an environment in modern society, it’s definitely possible to make some adjustments that can nudge our living conditions a little closer to what we’re genetically adapted for. f.lux is as mentioned one way to turn down the lights. Some other strategies include reducing the use of blue light-emitting devices late at night, avoiding stressful activities before bed, shifting out some artificial lights for candlelights after dark, and of course, nailing down your diet, exercise routine, etc. Personally, I’m also thinking about buying some goofy-looking amber googles/glass to wear the last couple of hours before bed when I have the chance.
Picture: Creative Commons picture by Flood G. Some rights reserved.