Staring at screens right before sleep turns out to be a lot worse than previously thought. Dr. Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, lays out all of the negative effects that bedtime screen viewing can have on the brain and body.
And of course, that’s aside from the effects of the contents! If you read any news, you may find yourself all riled up and annoyed at something you can do absolutely nothing about (or at least not at that moment). If you check your work email, just as problematic.
Jenson Taylor made an insightful post on Google+, I’m reproducing it here as its topic -sleep- is important and has already come up several times. From my own experience, the observations hold quite true.
Studies show that the length of sleep is not what causes us to be refreshed upon waking. The key factor is the number of complete sleep cycles we enjoy. Each sleep cycle contains five distinct phases, which exhibit different brain- wave patterns.
For our purposes, it suffices to say that one sleep cycle lasts an average of 90 minutes: 65 minutes of normal, or non-REM (rapid eye movement), sleep; 20 minutes of REM sleep (in which we dream); and a final 5 minutes of non-REM sleep. The REM sleep phases are shorter during earlier cycles (less than 20 minutes) and longer during later ones (more than 20 minutes).
If we were to sleep completely naturally, with no alarm clocks or other sleep disturbances, we would wake up, on the average, after a multiple of 90 minutes–for example, after 4 1/2 hours, 6 hours, 7 1/2 hours, or 9 hours, but not after 7 or 8 hours, which are not multiples of 90 minutes.
In the period between cycles we are not actually sleeping: it is a sort of twilight zone from which, if we are not disturbed (by light, cold, a full bladder, noise), we move into another 90-minute cycle.
A person who sleeps only four cycles (6 hours) will feel more rested than someone who has slept for 8 to 10 hours but who has not been allowed to complete any one cycle because of being awakened before it was completed.
First: Warm milk before bedtime does help you get to sleep, cold milk does not. Warming up milk activates the tryptophan that’s naturally present. Good.
I’m not a fan of either medication or dietary supplements, but obviously sometimes they can help you get back (and/or stay) on track – less to worry about.
From a pharmacist friend I’ve learnt that Calcium+Magnesium can assist with sorting out sleep issues, as it’s involved with relaxing your muscles, as well as enabling you to not waking up too early (the latter is something I’ve had problems with and it’s clearly very difficult to “work on that”).
Another acquired wisdom, not quite related but relevant in context, is for men to avoid taking extra Vitamin A. Chances are you have enough already, and more may cause you nasty headaches. Problem is, many multi-vitamins contain it so pick one that doesn’t, and I’ve noticed some milk is fortified with it (usually shown on label so easy to identify) – again pick one that hasn’t.
Sometimes you get pretty busy, and what’s the first thing to lose out? The daily exercise, being outside (sunlight) for a bit, perhaps the fruit (see the How-To). Sound familiar?
Depending on how you’re going at the time, you may actually get away with it. But it’s a dangerous track to go on… if you happen to get sick or add a bit of stress, there’s trouble. For me personally, I think it works somewhat like an equation, roughly this:
doing ok = ((exercise + daylight + fruit + sleep) >= (stress + illness))
Perhaps someone would care to refine this further?
(I’ve never coded in Lisp but I always use parentheses to keep math clear without implied rules. I know about operator precedence – heck I’ve written little compilers – but being explicit eases code maintenance and reduces bugs)
By the way, we got some press attention this week, see When hackers get the blues. It’s also November again, and that means Movember: the yearly fundraising drive raising awareness for men’s health, this year focusing on depression and prostate cancer. I’ve added it to the links, if you know of other relevant links please let us know!
A friend taught me a very useful trick to use when you really want to get to sleep but your brain can’t stop bouncing around randomly. Start counting and visualise each number, tracing it out in your visual space. Replace each number with the word ‘sleep’ before going on to the next. Or imagine it like a count-down strip in an old film reel, with the number 1 being surrounded by a clock face sweeping out the time to the next number. Slow that time down between numbers. Or write the words out in your head. Or count in a foreign language, again tracing the words out in your head. Try binary or trinary.
The key detail here is to not just think of the number but to visually map it out in your visual space, so it involves more of your brain to trace each number. If you also involve a picture or a word that you have to put between each iteration, it forces your brain to concentrate on one thing. And that’s really the key to that ‘brain pinball’ feeling – stopping every bit of your brain firing randomly.
The other technique I’ve used is to count up in series. Powers of two or three, the Fibonacci series – there are plenty of other arithmetic (and a few simple geometric) progressions that you can use to focus your mind. Now that I can count up to 2^24 from memory it becomes more of a challenge, but it’s a good way of concentrating to stop your thoughts randomly running all over the place.