There is no “off” switch for our brains. Going to sleep, for most people, involves a process of “coming down” from our hectic and sometimes stressful lives.
In the past, when there was no electricity, the sun went down and we went through a natural process of getting tired and then falling asleep.
But now we can keep the lights on all night if we want.
And with the advent of hyper-connectedness via our smart phones, the temptations are ever more tantalizing, and more and more people are having trouble getting to sleep, or staying asleep.
We were talking about this dilemma with one of our clients. He is a young computer programmer working at an exciting startup. But he has been having more and more trouble sleeping at night… and now notices that his work is suffering as a result. He described the situation this way…
I am just not in the mood for doing sleep inducing activities at night before going to bed… For some reason I seem to be waking up in the middle of the night.
After he said that we both paused and, at about the same time, realized that the first sentence explained the second sentence. He wasn’t coming down at all. He would stay awake until he was exhausted and then, even after he went to bed, keep on texting and playing games on his cell phone until he collapsed into fitful sleep…
Then, around 2 or 3 am… when the sleep hunger was not so overwhelming, he would wake up, because his the excitement he took to bed with him would break through the need to sleep.
A couple of days later we ran across this article in the New York Times….
As Nick says, in a nicely understated way,
To avoid constantly checking email and Twitter in the middle of the night, a traditional alarm clock may be a better choice for the bedroom than a smartphone.
He then gives some of the evidence that supports this recommendation (blue light from screens is particularly disruptive to circadian rhythms… and late night email reading is almost guaranteed to turn up some stressful issue that will make it hard to sleep).
But, most of us already suspect that this may be true… But how to do it? Can we really leave our phones behind?
A few readers of this blog have begun to make this change. Early reports are that it works… but it is hard to do.
If you decide to do it I would love to hear how the change goes, and what happens to your sleep.