Getting a good night’s sleep is incredibly important, perhaps more so than most of us realise. I’ve recently been listening to the audiobook of Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. I have to admit, the amount of detail has been too much for me, but the message is important: we really do need about 8 hours sleep every night, or there will be consequences. Short term consequences can reduce our performance at work or make us dangerous drivers, whilst in the long term our life expectancy decreases as we miss out on sleep. There is evidence that not getting enough sleep significantly increases the risk of a number of diseases including Alzheimer’s and cancer.
I personally have had periods where I wasn’t sleeping well. I realised that my use of technology could be causing this: staring at the bright light of my laptop screen late into the evening is just not very natural, is it?
These days I have a concept of tech-free evenings which I adhere to. After 9pm (at the latest), my laptop is stowed away, and I avoid using my phone. This ensures I get a couple of hours of offline time before bed. It’s a chance for my mind to unwind, and for my eyes to acclimatise to night. I’ll also switch off the primary lighting and use a side lamp.
What do I do during this time? Sometimes I’ll read, perhaps meditate, perhaps spend time with people. Very occasionally I’ll watch a film – although this might not meet a strict definition of tech-free, I find that my mind is more relaxed than with most online activities, and watching on TV in a dark dimly lit room doesn’t feel as bad for my eyes as using a laptop.
One additional thing I do is use software to adjust the colour of the screen in the evening. The blue (cool) frequencies of light are the kind of light we naturally encounter in the day, whereas the red (warm) frequencies are encountered at night, during sunset or around a campfire. By adjusting the colours to emit less blue light (so that the screen has a warm, red tint) the screens are less disruptive to our sleep. This shift in colour should be synchronised with the natural hours of day and night through the year – so in winter, my screen will adjust in the early evening.
This is possible on almost all modern devices. One of the first apps to do this is the freely available f.lux, available on Mac, Windows, and Linux. On iOS and recent versions of macOS, there is the built in Night Shift [Mac] [iPhone, iPad, iPod]. Windows has the built in Night Light, or alternatively Red Shift which also works on Linux. For Android there are many solutions – some manufacturers build in a feature like this, otherwise try CF.lumen.
Applying tech-free evenings, I find I sleep much better. In fact, rather than force myself to sleep when I think I should, I often find myself falling asleep before that and have to drag myself to bed!