By CAMERON TEOH
It’s not just because you’re so addicted that you don’t want to put it down.
The rise of portable technology, including smartphones, tablets and laptops, and the increase of users and ‘apps’ has seen a corresponding increase in the amount of time people spend with them.
We often use these technologies in bed, and complain that we (or a loved one) went to sleep late because we/they just couldn’t put their phones down. Research is showing that these smart technologies damage our sleep cycles in more ways than just enjoying them way past our bedtime.
The science behind sleep disruption
Sleep disruption doesn’t just lead to poor sleep quality and restfulness, but also productivity, and has even been linked to diabetes and cancer. One major reason for electronic devices causing sleep disruption is due to their effect on our melatonin levels.
Melatonin is an enzyme that helps to regulate our sleep cycles – it rises in the evening, and lowers in the morning and daytime. Light affects our melatonin levels, and this is one reason why some individuals get depressed during winter, when days are shorter and there are fewer hours of light (a phenomenon called Seasonal Affective Disorder).
It’s been found that short wavelength lights have a detrimental effect on our melatonin levels, suppressing melatonin production. This causes an extended disruption to our sleep regulation abilities, as it ‘tricks’ our brains into thinking it’s daylight and that we should be awake and alert.
Blue light is especially detrimental on melatonin. While all natural light contains some blue light, it is emitted in a higher concentration from the screens of electronic devices.
So, when we use these devices in the evenings and nights, we’re essentially blasting ourselves with a high dose of blue light, which disrupts our sleep cycles due to the suppression of melatonin levels.
This disruption extends longer than just that evening when we use electronic devices. It can make falling asleep and waking up harder. Those exposed to blue light also feel like they are less well-rested after their sleep.
The most obvious is to stop having screentime during the evenings, but this may sound like an unrealistic advice. The other solution comes from apps and modes that are now available on your devices.
These apps and programmes reduce the amount of blue light being emitted by the screens between the hours of sunset and sunrise, reducing the suppression effect on melatonin levels and subsequently our sleep regulation.
These programmes are all free, and extremely easy to set up. Install these and get your sleep cycles back in order!
- Computer (Mac, Windows, Linux): F.lux
- Android phones: Twilight app
- Apple iPhones or iPads: Night Shift mode on iOS 9.3
5 things that will help you sleep better
- Install apps on your electronic devices, including desktop computers, to automatically regulate blue light levels.
- Dim the brightness of your electronic devices in the evenings. Most phones and tablets make it easy to adjust brightness levels. This further reduces blue light exposure, and especially in dim lighting/darkness, the screens remain very readable.
- Limit exposure to digital screens, including computers, televisions, mobile phones, and tablets in the evenings.
- Separate work and other daytime activities from your bed and bedroom. You want to create a strong association between your bedroom with only rest and sleep.
- Develop a routine sleeping schedule where you go to bed and rise at the same time each day. Irregular sleep-wake schedules lead to poor sleep quality and quantity, meaning sleep is less restful and you get fewer hours of sleep.
In our already swamped daily routine, many leaders fail to sleep enough. According to research done by numerous organisations, various parts of our brain, especially the prefrontal cortex, directs executive functioning—such as problem-solving, organising, planning, reasoning and getting things done.
As we know, great leaders rely on these various processes to ensure leadership success, so to be deprived of sleep would have a significant effect on your leadership ability.
Another Centre for Creative Leadership study indicates that the quantity and quality of sleep influences memory, decision-making, attitudes, innovation and creativity throughout the day.
Great leaders who lack sleep will succumb to more errors of judgement, including not being able to read emotions of their employees and customers.
A McKinsey and Company research states there is a strong correlation between leadership performance and organisational health. This means that when a leader is not performing well, the whole organisation suffers.
With this clear connection between leadership and sleep, Dr Cameron Teoh’s advice on how you can sleep better will not only benefit you, it will make your company better.
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Cameron is a lecturer of human factors and ergonomics/psychology with HELP University.