So I’ve just almost concluded the resilience workshops with the JC2 classes (almost). And one of the things we talked about was how sleep was crucial as it comes to succeeding in school and that young people need about 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep which I wrote about in another post.
So after the workshop, some students came up to me and said they now understand sleep is important but often find it so hard to get to sleep. They find that they often toss and turn in bed and then when they look at the clock it’s like 4 freaking am with another 2 hours to go before they have to get ready for school. Some say they often wake up in the middle of the night and find it hard to get back to sleep. I asked them what they do when that happens, and most say they check their phones or reply whatsapp messages until they feel sleepy enough which usually does not occur soon enough and before they know it, it’s 4 freaking am. No wonder when I asked a group of students how they were doing yesterday, 4 out of 5 said they were dog tired, and the one that didn’t, didn’t hear my question cos she was too sleepy.
Most students now know I like to sleep alot. And when I’m awake, I like to read about sleep biology, how sleep occurs, how to get more sleep, what’s the best temperature for sleep, strategies to fall asleep quickly etc etc and spend the latter half of the day looking forward to sleeping again. Suffice it to say that I’m obsessed over sleep. And one of the things that I realized only in the last few months or so, is the effect of blue light (i.e. the light from our laptops, ipads, iphones and other paler cousins of Apple) on our sleep.
You see, once upon a time, when we were cave people, we spent most of our evenings after the sun goes down in relative darkness. When our body senses that it’s dark (a complicated process that is somewhat explained in the video above), the pineal gland (a pea-sized gland in the brain) begins to secrete melatonin which is a hormone that makes us super sleepy and we go to sleep. When the sun comes up, the pineal gland stops producing melatonin and we are awake and alert from having slept pretty well. We don’t have to make this process happen. Our body’s clever circadian rhythm makes this process automatic. This explains why when we go to ulu places and there’s no TV or wifi of any sort, we start to feel dozy at like 7pm.
With the advent of artificial light, we can now continue to party and work late into the night (woohoo!) and although that has had its benefits on mankind, it has really thrown our circadian rhythm out of whack. What researchers have found is that when we continue fiddling with our phones, tablets or laptops late into the night, the short wave blue light emitted from these devices fool our body into believing that it’s still day time and keeps the pineal gland from releasing melatonin. Without melatonin, we don’t feel sleepy (which explains why some people continue to feel wired and hyped up late into the night) and as a result our sleep really suffers. When our sleep suffers, we can’t focus and stay alert in the day for school and exams (A level exams at 8am anyone?) when we’re supposed to and we can even end up with chronic health issues like diabetes, obesity and heart diseases as outlined in this Harvard health article when we’re chronically sleep deprived.
So what can you do if you want to improve the quality of your sleep? There are a few ways I can think of:-
1. Put away blue light emitting devices at least an hour before bed time. I’ve experimented with this on myself – stowed away the phone and ipad, switched off the TV, turned down the room lights at 9pm and started reading a book instead while waiting for my melatonin to kick in and make me sleepy enough by 10pm. Usually it doesn’t even take that long. I’m comatose by 9.30pm.
2. Install F.lux (completely free of charge) which is a software that tracks the timings when the sun rises and sets and adjusts the lighting of the laptop accordingly to cut out as much disturbing blue light as possible (see picture on left).
3. Avoid sleeping with the phone next to you so you don’t get disturbed when you get random messages in the night and the phone lights up the entire room. Set it to silent and stuff it in the darkest abyss of your bag. If your friend can’t wait for you to reply when you’re awake, then this friend probably has issues.
Hope this helps you to sleep like a baby and come to school with a razor sharp mind. Razor. sharp.