Sleep used to come easily and deeply for me. Six or seven solid hours were always enough and my eyes would pop open with energy for the start of a new day. My first computer arrived when I was thirty two and my first child ten years later. The quality of my sleep has been relative ever since and I wrote a post about electronics and sleeping a while back to share how I am trying to figure this dilemma out. I start my day in front of the computer and end it the same way, usually checking emails right before I brush my teeth. Sad but true, and I don’t think it has served me well.
Sleep positions and the quality of our sleep are two of my obsessions and I usually talk about both at workshops that I teach. Last weekend in Philadelphia, I was offering a CoreWalking workshop, and a student turned me on to F.lux, a program that you install on your computer, tablet and even phone, in order to cut down on the amount of blue light that leeches into the brain towards the end of the day and night.
Bright light, such as natural sunlight, is a “blue” light that inhibits the creation of melatonin in the brain to signal the beginning of the day. This blue light, at the right time of the day, gives us the energy to carry on. The problem is that most computer screens, tablets, and touch phone displays, as well as flourescent and the new energy efficient light bulbs, also emit a blue light that triggers this inhibition, affecting the user’s ability to sleep and potentially disrupting the user’s sleep cycle. If you consider that morning sunlight and your computer screen emit the same quality of this blue light it is easy to see how this can confuse a sensitive brain.
Our sleep patterns are regulated by circadian rhythms, a 24 hour cycle that responds primarily to light and darkness and is important in determining the sleeping and feeding patterns of all animals, including us humans. Circadian rhythms are produced naturally within the body, but they are affected by the light and dark which send signals to our brain to help regulate the cycles of sleeping and wakefulness.
Without getting too technical there is a special part of the brain (supra-chiasmatic nucleus or SCN) that works with the retina of the eye to control the hormones that control sleeping and other functions. The SCN is like a light clock that stimulates, or inhibits, body functions based on the time of day or the amount of light the system is registering. The idea of the F.Lux program is that is adjusts the color temperature of your computer to match the time of the day, inhibiting the blue light emissions rather than allowing the computer to inhibit the body’s melatonin production.
Who knows if it is working? I can’t say for sure but the F.Lux program has an option to shut it down for an hour to do color sensitive work, and last night I clicked it too see the difference and it was shocking how bright my screen became. The nice part is that it is installed (and it’s free) and working and even if it doesn’t help I don’t see how it could hurt.