This post will be little more than a quick and dirty cut’n’paste job tonight, but the source article was just too good not to broadcast to a wider audience. Appearing today in the online edition of our daily newspaper’s here in New Zealand, and written by a local freelance journalist who has lived through the regular sleep disturbance of earthquakes, the following article resonated with me for a couple of reasons. And given the relatively regular “OMFG, it’s 3am and I can’t sleep so I have taken to Twitter” messages that are broadcast by many paleo-types, including those of us who should know far better, I’m picking the invasion of technology into the bedroom and the ease with which we dive into it, is a fairly common occurrence.
Unlike the author here, and seemingly most of the people in Christchurch, the earthquakes haven’t caused me too many issues as far as sleeping goes. Sure, a good rattle in the night will cause me to wake up, but I tend to be of the mindset that I’ll take my chances and ride the quakes out in bed and deal with any consequences after (this is what I did with the Sept 2010 7.1 quake – by the time the early vibrations turned into 30 seconds in a tumble drier, there really wasn’t much point in trying to stand up and get under a door frame – I took shelter under my duvet and pillow). But I do find it all too tempting to pick up the phone when I wake up, primarily to check the time in the first instance (time stamping as is referred to below), but also to check any messages that have come through overnight and to see who else might be lurking online – you just never know who might be there at 5am…
It is a shocker of a habit, and one which I should really take action on. We have options as far as altering our nutrition to support different contexts, likewise with exercise, and we can either put ourselves in the sun or take ourselves out of the sun based on our needs. But when it comes to sleep, we really only have one option – to sleep (we can perhaps kid ourselves that intravenous coffee might be the antidote for a lack of sleep, but we know it isn’t). And we know that after a couple of nights of disturbed sleep, eating and activity begin to suffer – likewise, for me at least, our social adjustment.
A good reminder that while waking up during the night is a perfectly ‘paleo’, switching our brain on to update our sleep-deprived status, isn’t.
You’re lying wide awake. You reach over to your mobile phone, a flash of light is emitted as you press the home button. It’s 1am. You say to yourself, “If I go to sleep now, I’ll still get six hours sleep”. You check your phone again at 2.30am. Then 4am, 5.30am and finally, your alarm goes off at 7am. And you’re sure you haven’t slept a wink all night.
If you’re a troubled sleeper, you’ll know this routine all too well.
My bad sleeping habits started a year ago while living with earthquakes. I’m not the only one – my GP once told me that our country all but ran out of a certain blue sleeping pill because it was being prescribed so much in Christchurch in February 22’s wake. As aftershocks lessened, I thought my bad sleeping would too. But as 2012 rolled on, I was still having trouble sleeping, still having the occasional night without any sleep at all. Or did I?
Sleep doctors call the continual checking of clocks throughout the night “time stamping”. The brain associates each clock check – 1am, 2.30am, 4am and so forth – with not getting any sleep between those periods. Actually, a person normally is sleeping (perhaps very lightly) and it is a psychological association that convinces us otherwise.
After being on and off a few prescription and herbal sleeping medications, I decided it was time to see a sleep doctor. I’d been hesitant for months; thinking it’d involve experiments and monitoring of my habits, and a fairly expensive financial investment. Or, more sceptically, airy-fairy meditation techniques.
One visit to a sleep clinic was all it took. My doctor, a former GP, first sat down and discussed the things in my life that would be affecting my sleep – namely around a psychological dependence on taking some form of sleeping pill.
Then things got interesting. I was told to make changes to the way I use technology in the hours before bedtime.
Time stamping isn’t the only thing that hinders sleep. The good doc explained to me the importance of not using my laptop or mobile phone for at least an hour before I hit the hay (something I did frequently before bed, and even during the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep).
These devices emit artificial light that suppresses release of melatonin, the sleep-promoting hormone.
This suppression enhances alertness, shifting circadian rhythms by several hours, making it difficult to switch off and slumber. What about TV, you ask? There are two reasons why television before bedtime isn’t quite the same.
The first is because the television is (normally) placed much further from the eye than a computer or mobile phone screen. The second, more importantly, is that TVs are passive, while computers are interactive. TV doesn’t excite the brain; it relaxes it.
When you use an interactive device close to your eyes, the images from the screen can be held in the brain long after the device is turned off, thus making it all the more challenging to block out the world, and nod off at a reasonable hour.
A 2011 poll by America’s National Sleep Foundation found that 95 per cent of people reported that most nights a week, they surfed the internet, texted or watched TV during the hour before trying to sleep. Not surprisingly, 63 per cent of the surveyed group also reported sleep deprivation. What are the chances that the 63 per cent was largely made up of late-night texters and web surfers? The experience of this writer would lead quite firmly towards a correlation.
I took the good doc’s advice. I didn’t just stop using all technology after 10pm, I removed all technology from my bedroom. I bought a tiny little analogue clock (digital clock radios are terribly taunting) to wake me up instead of my phone’s alarm, and it’s placed on the other side of the room. My phone now charges in the living room, so not only can I not time stamp with it, but I also can’t check any emails or text messages that arrive during the night.
There are many other factors that contribute to sleeplessness. Heat. Caffeine. Stress. Fear of aftershocks. But for me, it seems technology had become the major contributor after getting on a bad sleep cycle post-quake. How am I sure of this?
Since I went cold turkey on technology before bed, I’ve been sleeping like a baby almost every night.
Lee Suckling is a Christchurch freelance journalist.