For the record I’m not much of a cat person myself however, I am not immune to the cuteness of a slumbering kitten.
We all know depression has a nasty habit of negatively affecting our sleep. Sleep always feels like it’s right around the corner, but sometimes the smallest things can keep us awake. If anxiety is something you suffer with as well, then just getting to sleep can feel like trying to outrun your shadow.
Our bodies have evolved over such a long time it’s hard to even fathom. At night, the sky’s hues turn to red and the sounds of nature’s orchestra came alive and we fell asleep listening to crickets and all sorts of critters against the backdrop of a babbling brook or gentle wind tickling the leaves of the trees.
When it was time to wake up, the sky shifted to blue and those same sounds that lulled us to bed now gently nudge us awake.
Ahhh….those were the days.
Fast forward to the 21st century where many times we try to fall asleep to dead silence and the last thing we look at is our phone or laptop screen. When we do this, it throws off our natural processes. Exposure to the blue light emitting screens of our lives wreaks havoc on our sleep cycles.
You sleep for 10 hours but feel like you hadn’t even taken a nap. This happens to a lot of people, and although there can be many causes, they all work against us and eliminating just one or two can have a positive effect on sleep quality. Download yourself a sleep tracking app or strap on your “smart watch” or fitness band to get an idea how well you are sleeping through the night now. Use the app or band for a few weeks while following one, or both of the following suggestions and you will be able to see your sleep improvements in near real-time.
Suffering from depression and anxiety already makes for restless sleep at times, let’s not add insult to injury here. Staring at a screen as you lay down to sleep is like drinking a cup of coffee right before bed. Yes, some people are so numb to caffeine it may not have such a large effect, but for the majority of the population that will likely keep them awake half the night.
It is easier to see caffeine’s effects because after ingesting it, sleep will probably not be an option. With blue-light emitting devices, however, the effects aren’t quite as obvious. REM sleep is a very important part of our nightly rest and without it, we face a plethora of side-effects.
1. Have a “screen-off” time for at least 30 minutes before bed.
30 minutes is the minimum here. Staring at a screen that emits blue light right up until we close our eyes to sleep does not do us any favors when it comes to sleep quality, especially REM sleep.
I can’t remember where I read about this idea first, and the activity goes by many different nicknames depending on who you hear it from. Since I grew up with Amish neighbors, let’s call it Amish Hour. Set a daily reminder to go off at least 30 minutes before you are going to lay down to sleep, if you decide to do a full hour that even better. We will start with 30 and work our way up from there.
For that last hour, your Amish Hour, do away with ALL screens. No TV, laptop, tablet, cell phone…nothing. If you have been meaning to get back into reading those sci-fi novels, this is an excellent time for that. Me? I spend the time split between reading and writing in my journal.
2. Get rid of the Blue Light another way
The second option is a bit like cheating. I will have some benefit, but not nearly as much as above. There is an application available for Linux and Mac called flux (https://justgetflux.com) that adjusts your computer’s color settings automatically based on the time you wake up. You input all of the parameters and the screen will dim and tune out the blue light over time, it evens gives you little reminders to let you know how long you have until you have to get up.
The newest update to the iPhone has a F.Lux-like setting built in, called Night Shift. Just install iOS 9.3.1, navigate to your control panel (swipe up) and select the little lamp. That’s it.
If you don’t have a way to install this or have a different phone (I’m an iPhone guy myself) there are many screen covers to choose from that actually block the blue light from coming through, achieving the same.
Here is one that is easy on and off. Simply install it in the evening and remove it in the morning hassle-free.
There is even one made for flat panel TV’s! I don’t personally watch television but if I did this would most certainly be a must-have in my home.
Ideally, we should always try to avoid our electronics leading up to bed time. Like many things in life, we know this, however, it isn’t always that simple. If you rely on the computer and/or a smartphone to put food on the table then losing an hour’s worth of work is not the most available option.
Take the time to install a program or a screen cover soon, and let rest come much easier for you.
If you’re still unsure, here are a few ramifications that those who are not getting enough REM sleep are subject to:
- problems with short to long term memory formation
- heightened acute pain sensitivity
- weight gain
- reduction in coping skills
- this has a direct effect on both depression and anxiety
Have you tried similar strategies for helping you get to sleep, stay asleep, or improve the quality of your sleep? If so, let us know 🙂