“Brain Hacked,” Sleep, Lacked  

Sally* is an executive with a large trade association. Not only is she amazingly successful at work, she has four thriving and happy children, each involved in his or her passion of piano, soccer, theater, and tennis. She employs a nanny, Shannon, who picks up the children from their respective schools, drives them to their after-school activities, and makes dinner for them. Her husband, Ned, has a successful career as a sports marketing agent. He helps out when he is in town, mainly on the weekends.

Sally can’t help but be attached to her phone. Shannon and Sally are in constant contact, as are her son’s theater coaches, and her daughter’s doctor due to a childhood illness of severe asthma. Oh yes, and her staff, her boss, and her board members consider Sally indispensable so she is “on call” 24/7/365.

Then, let’s say just maybe there’s a little Instagram, a little Facebook, and checking her daughter’s Snapchat account. Our phones are now something none of us leaves home without.

I need not go on. I, too, can be charged guilty of looking at my phone all-too-often. Clients call, email, have scheduling requests and billing questions, or an injury. The school nurse calls about a bad fall from the monkey bars.

“60 Minutes” aired a special about how Silicon Valley works to get your brain “hacked,” or addicted to your phone, its apps, and social media. As Anderson Cooper says, we “feel the need to check in constantly.” The former google executive Cooper interviewed likened our phone use to a slot machine. The engineers who develop them and their intricate software know we humans are intently seeking reward. Therefore, they program the phones to dole them out to us.

Watch a teenager on Snapchat. The engineers of that software have created anxiety among teenagers through developing a feature called “streaks.” Streaks shows the number of days in a row you’ve posted something on the app. Teenagers worry they’ll miss a day or even a “chat” to the point of giving their passwords to others to keep up their “chat.”

All of this leads me back to the main point of sleep. Even back in the “dark” ages of technology, in 2007, there was a study showing the ill effects of cell phone use an hour before bed. The study showed people who used cell phone had a harder time falling asleep than those who didn’t use a cell phone within the hour prior to bedtime.

Blue light, or the type of light emanating from a computer, television, or cell phone, can have negative and inhibitory effect on sleep onset and quality. It tells our brains that it is still daytime, when in fact it is night and dark outside.

Blue light is the way your body – specifically your circadian rhythm – senses it’s time to be awake. It is great during the day when we all work, play, learn, eat. Yet at night our body adjusts to wanting darkness to sleep. Remember we were all hunters and gatherers at one point. Daylight was for work; night was for sleep (or, for some, to hunt).

Blue light from a 10am sky or blue light from your computer screen or cell phone at midnight – it makes no difference to our circadian rhythms. Our bodies digest light the same. So, sleep becomes difficult to achieve – to get there and to stay there.

Our challenge for you: for a week, no blue light one hour before you head to bed. Yes, it is hard, yet you can do it.  We’d love to hear if you notice a difference.

 

*Names in this post have been changed; the experiences are real.  

 

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