Your friend’s wedding is coming up and you want to look your best but nothing can disguise those huge bags under your eyes. Haven’t been sleeping properly?
There was a time when human beings slept at sunset and woke to a day brightened by natural light from the sun.This routine was first altered after Thomas Edison introduced the light bulb. Today, however, many people are mysteriously unable to sleep even after midnight. While recurrent, ongoing insomnia could in itself be classified as a ‘disease of civilisation’, the reason some of us are lying awake at night immersed in the wonders of the iPad, iPhone, laptops and other electronic devices, is the blue light emitted from their LED screens. The popularity and subsequent ubiquity of these machines has introduced a phenomenon in our lives known as the ‘blue light epidemic’.
Our bodies have something called a ‘circadian rhythm’ – a 24-hour internal clock in which the body experiences changes in temperature, cortisol (the stress hormone), melatonin and other neurochemicals. Melatonin, which functions to induce sleep, is released in response to darkness and suppressed upon exposure to light. And blue light – which mimics the blue of the sky – is the most potent suppressor of this hormone. There is substantial evidence to link being routinely exposed to blue light in the evening with a condition known as ‘Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome’.
Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome is a condition in which your entire circadian rhythm is pushed forward. People suffering from this condition are usually able to fall sleep only well after midnight and are accustomed to wake up in the late morning or even afternoons.
What you can do
• Get sunshine in the morning. Recent research done at the Rensselaer Polytech Institute in New York has revealed that people who get adequate exposure to the sun during the day will be less sensitive to artificial light at night.
• Taking melatonin as a supplement. However, melatonin is extremely powerful and taking it without first familiarising yourself with the research behind optimal dosage and correct timings is not advised. Without caution, it can cause rebound insomnia or even depression.
• Blue light blocking goggles. Researchers at the John Carroll University have invented goggles said to block blue light. Worn shortly after sunset, these have been shown to improve sleep and advance the circadian hour.
• Get F.lux. It is an ingenious software that acts as a natural clock inside your personal computer which adjusts the light spectrum of your computer screen to blue-blocking in the evening and back to normal at sunrise. Reportedly, in the US, this software is already being used in many offices. Incredibly, it’s free!
For the more laid-back though, just dim the lights and switch off the iPad or laptop at least an hour before bedtime. Your chances with those rishta-aunties equipped with super vision may be better if you ‘plug out’ early and feel healthy, rested and energetic rather than spend your prime years sleep-deprived and looking like a zombie.
The authors are involved in a project called Scholars by Profession which intends to pioneer introducing graduate-level research to Pakistan. Please visit their facebook page for further details.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2012.