Sunday, May 16, 2010

Trouble Sleeping - Look to Electronics

In the CNN Technology Section on May 13, 2010, there was an article posted by John D. Sutter, called "Trouble Sleeping? Maybe It's Your Ipad." While I'm sure CNN was trying to capitalize on the word "Ipad" , there was a very good message in the article that needs to be explored and researched.

The article talked about strong light that whether it came from the sun or electronic devices can reset a person's internal sleep clock. An individual that was referenced in the article turned all his electronic gadgets and lights off in his house at sunset for one month. For this person, it worked and instead of falling asleep at midnight, he was going to bed at 9 pm. During the day, he felt so rested that his friends remarked on his early morning perkiness. He affirmed that getting the extra slept really made a difference in his state of mind.

More and more, many of us are using electronic devices with bright lights and illuminated screens on them. Often we are using them right up until we go to sleep at night. There is a growing concern that these electronic devices may actually be fooling our brains into becoming confused as to what is daytime and what is night time. If you add into the mix, a person who already has sleep problems or who is stressed, than it can make insomnia much worse. Even if you use one of these electronic devices close to bedtime, it can actually stimulate the brain enough to make it more aware and delay your ability to sleep. That is according to Phyllis Zee, a neuroscience professor at Northwestern University. It may also affect your circadian rhythm which is the clock in your brain that determines when you sleep and when you wake up.

Because devices like the ipad, iphone, laptop computers and the Amazon Kindle illuminate bright light that is so close to the eyes, it has a strong impact on what happens in the brain. Unlike a TV, where the light is filtered and spread across a room, it has a lessor impact than these newer electronic devices do. The big distinction is how much light is coming directly into the eyes.

People are biologically wired to be awake when the sun is out and to go to sleep when it is dark. When the receptors in our eyes are flooded with bright light for an extended period of time, a message is sent to the brain that it is time to be awake. Normally when it is dark or around 9 pm at night, the brain secretes melatonin. Melatonin helps make people sleepy and it is responsible for regulating the internal sleep clock in people. If bright lights are shining in our eyes, than melatonin production may not happen as it is supposed to.

In addition, our eyes are very sensitive to blue light. Blue light is common during the day but not in the evening. Computer screens and phones tend to put out a lot of blue light and even though they may not be as intense, they could still greatly affect melatonin production and secretion. It is hard to determine just how much light is needed to reset the person's internal sleep clock. Several factors such as how bright the light is, what hues are present, how large the light source is and how far it is from the person's eyes all have an impact on the body's rhythms and internal sleep clock. What the person does during the day plays a major role. Take someone that works outside all day in the sun versus an office worker who is in a more artificial light environment and there will be a difference in how they are affected by these light sources after dark.

Of course, it is important to note that some researches are very skeptical of the entire premise of this article. They do not feel that the bright lights from these electronic devices have any impact on how a person sleeps unless they are suffering from insomnia. I say, if you're skeptical - try the experiment that the person did where they shut off the lights and devices at dark. See if it works. If after a month it doesn't work, than you should be skeptical as well.

In the article, there are many different options that may help alleviate some of these situations or lessen the impact of bright lights on your sleep. Please refer to the article link above for more detailed information and options. I have only tried to highlight some of the main points in the article but the article is worth reading.

Our bodies do work towards a balance and when we influence and impact them, something has to either happen within our body to bring it back in balance or alter functions to compensate for the impact. That can be evidenced by many things we do from staying up all night long or being stressed out or drinking too much caffeine and not enough water, etc and etc, and so forth. There are numerous ways in which we impact our bodies every day and some of them we don't stop to think about.

Our nervous systems are designed to be very resilient and absorb much of the impacts and stress we place on our body. However if we continually bombard our mind and our body with undue stresses, than at some point the body says to the mind - hey, enough! So finding balance within ourselves and working to rid ourselves of the stress we take in each day will help this. The most important part though is paying attention to our body and becoming more aware of how we impact it and how we actually live in our bodies. Remember, we only get one body in this lifetime so the more we take care of it and learn about it, the more we will get out of life!

*For more articles, check out the Mind Body Thoughts Blog

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