I have been experience problems getting to sleep lately.
I'll come home from a long day of work/exercise/running-around-like-a-crazy-person, get settled and feel nice and sleepy.. then I get this sudden urge to check my Twitter, Google Reader, e-mail and all that. And like magic, I am no longer tired.
Well, that's not true - I'm still exhausted - but that feeling you get right before you drift off into La La Land is obliterated. One reason for this, I believe, is that it gets your brain working a little faster than it would like to in the late evening, essentially waking it up ("oh, that's interesting" "oooh, I can blog about that later" "WHAT?! Somebody's WRONG on the INTERNET?!!") Another definite problem is that the bright, glaring lights of the computer screen, especially in contrast to the darkness around it, can disrupt your body's melatonin levels, as researchers discovered years ago. Melatonin is necessary for achieving high quality sleep.
Sleep is incredibly important - not only to us Paleo diet enthusiasts or Primal life lovers, but to EVERYONE. A fair bit of us here in America are getting less than 6 hours of sleep, which is simply not enough to let the body do all the things it needs to do during this mandatory downtime.
"Stage Four: Though everything has slowed, this deep sleep marks an increase in activity. The body's blood pressure drops and muscles relax, though blood flow to muscles increases. Dreams continue and sleepwalking is most likely, caused when there is a disruption of the brain's command to paralyze muscles so that people do not act out their dreams. This is the most restorative sleep, releasing hormones for growth and development, repairing tissue and refreshing energy. Awakening in deep sleep is difficult; a person would remain groggy and disoriented for a few minutes." - E.L. MillerHopefully it is clear that sleep is very important for us in our busy, active lives - especially moreso if you are engaged in physical activity.
Thankfully, I found something to help make my computer a little more Primal, alleviating some of my computer-related sleep problems. But first a little background on the 'why' and the 'how' of digital-age insomnia.
What Is Melatonin?
The pineal gland generates melatonin - interestingly, it is light sensitive. There is a very complicated hookup between the pineal gland and your eyes - essentially it knows when daylight (or artificial daylight from blue-light heavy screens like cell phones, computer monitors and televisions) is hitting your eyes, and then melatonin synthesis is suppressed; conversely, when lower spectrum "red" light (think sunsets!) starts hitting your eyes, or the absence of light altogether, it tells the pineal gland to get movin'!
Quite a useful chemical, melatonin is made all over the body, mostly in the skin (where it serves other and varied functions) and the pineal gland, located in the brain, where it serves as a sleep regulator. Melatonin is manufactured from the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is created by the amino acid tryptophan.
Melatonin doesn't necessarily make you fall asleep, but works more as a "time cue", essentially telling your brain, "Now is probably a good time to take a break, yanno?" This makes it a very important element in our Circadian Rhythm, or our biological clock. When we start screwing with our biological clock, bad things start to happen.
Computer, Phone and Television Screens - Oh my!
As mentioned above, blue light suppresses melatonin production. It is emitted by some lamps, UV lights, computer monitors, television screens and hand-held devices... actually, most artificial light sources, as can be easily seen in the picture in the beginning of this article. Not only does this contribute to insomnia via late-night computing or TV viewing, but it has several deleterious effects on our vision, to boot.
The obvious solution to this problem? When it starts getting dark, turn off the lights, turn off the TV, turn off the computer and the cell phone, light up a couple of candles or or soft-light lamps - or better yet, a roaring fireplace. Mmmm. Spend the rest of the evening conversing with your friends and loved ones or reading a book by firelight.
Unfortunately, this is not going to be a feasible option for many. We either do not have the resources to do this (candles don't create THAT much light, and I sadly do not have a fireplace in my apartment) or are too caught up in the cycles of the modern world to comfortably do things like that. I am definitely guilty of this - still working on limiting my compulsive e-mail and social networking compulsions.
So what am I to do?
Try F.lux for Mitigation!
Thankfully a Stereopsis has addressed this problem with a piece of software calle F.lux. F.lux takes your location information (via zipcode or latitude/longitude) and determines what phases in the night-day cycle you are (adjusting for seasons and daylight savings time and all that). It then adjusts your computer's display settings to either mimic daylight or, using settings you can specify, mimic the quality of your indoor lighting.
I set mine to be nice and "halogeny", similar to the picture to the left. You should be able to see the difference between a computer with F.lux (top monitor) and a one without (laptop).
My brother brought this program to my attention the other day - he called me over and told me to "look at this"; there wasn't anything on the monitor, but it was weirdly colored.. and it honestly made me feel sleepy just looking at it!
I installed it immediately, and am very glad I did. It takes a little adjustment, but you get used to it after a little while; it also comes with an option to easily disable it, just in case you have some color-sensitive work to do.
My favorite part? It's completely free and runs on Windows, Mac OS AND Linux. Woot!
I hope you at least give this program a try - the mitigation of eye strain and prevention of sleep deprivation this can provide are potentially priceless. May not work for everyone, but like I said - it's free and a way to make your everyday life a touch more Primal!