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The Connection Between Technology And Insomnia

How our use of technology is causing insomnia

14Mar

Accepting poor sleep should not be considered normal, even if you're getting older or have a lot on your mind. Quality of life is affected greatly when a person is not well rested. A lack of sleep causes a person to drag through the day, experience the effects of unwelcome hormonal changes and can even lead to depression.

Insomnia is a sleep disorder where the brain is not able to enter the sleep cycle. People with insomnia can't get to sleep, can't stay asleep all night or they wake up too early. A repeated lack of feeling refreshed after sleeping is a telltale sign of insomnia. Common side effects of insomnia are low energy, difficulty concentrating, irritability, aggressiveness, impulsive behavior, and problems with relationships.

It's important to face the symptoms of insomnia because a short bout can lead to a long-term chronic problem when sleep patterns become so disrupted that it's difficult to establish your body's normal body clock. If you are having trouble sleeping at least three nights a week for at least three months, you have the signs of chronic insomnia.

Sleep problems are not just annoying, they can be dangerous. Sleepy drivers and machinery operators put themselves and others at risk. Therefore, it's imperative that everyone understands the causes of insomnia and do what is necessary to get consistent, quality sleep.

Ann-Marie Chang, a neuroscientist from Harvard University, states that science has known for quite a while that light is the most powerful trigger for shifting our natural biological clock from the awake state to the sleep state. Let's look at how modern devices that emit light affect the amount of sleep we get.

Life Without Technology

Before we entered the technology era, our bodies were in sync with the rising and setting of the sun. In the evening, people had candles, fireplaces and oil lamps to light their environment. However, anyone who has used these sources of light knows that they are dim. Often they don't emit enough light to read by.

In those days, when the retina of our eyes detected the setting of the sun, the pineal gland, located in the center of the brain, went to work to produce melatonin. Melatonin is a natural hormone, which the pineal gland releases it into the bloodstream. Melatonin causes us to feel sleepy and it remains elevated in the bloodstream during the night hours.

When daytime arrives, the pineal gland stops producing melatonin and the body wants to enter the wakeful state. During the daytime hours, there is almost no melatonin in our blood.

Any interruption in the smooth production and secretion of melatonin during the night results in interrupted sleep. In order for our bodies to enter the sleep cycle and come out of it only after a sufficient amount of time has passed, the pineal gland must create and secrete melatonin continually for the entire night.

Then Blue Lights Entered the Scene

Electronic devices, such as smartphones and TVs, emit what is called a 'blue light.' Blue light has been shown to inhibit the release of melatonin by delaying the body's detection that night has arrived.

When children or adults spend time in bed looking at an electronic device that emits blue light, the pineal gland is not stimulated to produce melatonin, so the body's sleepy state is not triggered. Precious and needed sleep hours can be lost simply because blue light devices artificially delay our body's sleep cycle.

If you work at your computer at night, the light from your computer screen can prolong the wakeful state beyond what it should be.

Artificial Lighting

According to the LiveScience website, all artificial light can adversely affect sleep patterns. These artificial light sources include fluorescent lights and LEDs (light emitting diodes) and incandescent bulbs, in addition to the devices previously mentioned.

A key factor in how our body produces sleep hormones is the room's lightness or darkness. For example, what happens in most cases when a person is sleeping and someone turns on the lights in the room? The person often wakes up and has trouble falling back to sleep. Strong light entering the eyes tells the brain that it is time to switch off the nighttime sleep hormone, melatonin. Even with noise in the room, a person is more able to fall back to sleep if the room remains dark.

Solutions to Technology-Induced Insomnia

Thankfully, there are measures we can take to reduce the sleep-depriving effects that blue lights have on us. Here are six solutions that will help:

[1] Dim the light on the screen as evening approaches. In fact, dimming all the lights in the house will send a signal from the eye to the brain that it's time to start preparing for the sleep cycle.

[2] Install an app on your phone that warms up the colors during the evening. This app causes the light on the screen to shift from the short-wave blue spectrum to the longer red and yellow wavelength.

[3] Invest in a pair of blue-light filtering eyeglasses. You will still be able to see but filtering out the blue light spectrum can help trigger the pineal gland to start producing melatonin.

[4] At least one to two hours before a set bedtime, power down all blue-light devices in the house, including TVs, computers, tablets and smartphones. This will help trigger the production of melatonin and sleepiness will set in at the right time.

[5] Install as many full spectrum lights in your home as possible. Couple this with installing the smart-home feature that gradually dims the all the lights throughout the home, beginning at sunset. This will imitate the setting of the sun and the body will react accordingly.

[6] Avoid using energy-efficient blue lights in nightlights located in bedrooms, hallways, and bathrooms. Instead, use bulbs with a warmer hue, such as dim red lights, which have higher wavelengths that do not inhibit the pineal gland's secretion of melatonin.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of good, restorative sleep for middle-aged adults and seven to eight hours for seniors 65 years and older.

Insomnia can be caused by a variety of unhealthy sleep-related habits, such as keeping the mind stimulated long after it needs rest. Besides technology, causes of insomnia can be working the night shift, working irregular hours, eating a heavy meal before bed, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, medications and frequent jet lag.

Some causes of insomnia, such as working the swing shift or jobs that require traveling, are hard to avoid. However, regulating our own technological devices is something we do have control over. Taking your sleep patterns seriously is one of the best things you can do to increasing production during the day and having an overall sense of wellbeing.

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