There is an overwhelming amount of data supporting the fact that sleeping 7-9 hours a night is an essential requirement for our bodies and minds to be healthy.  Quality sleep can improve or maintain cognitive function and memory, decrease the risk of chronic disease and in some instances even help to maintain or attain a proper body weight.  One of the best things about this is that sleep is cheap and should be relatively easy.  Unfortunately with the modern times we live in, what we consider unwinding can really be ruining a good night’s sleep.

Many Albertans come home at night and relax from a stressful day by watching TV, surfing on their computer or tablet, texting or video chatting with friends on their phone, or reading an e-book off a tablet.  Little do they know that all of these light emitting devices are suppressing a hormone in the body called melatonin and this has very serious affect on their quality of sleep.

Melatonin is a hormone in your body that controls cycles of sleep and wakefulness.  When you think of the natural circadian rhythms of the rising and setting of the sun this will make a lot of sense.  Light suppresses melatonin, so when the sun rises in the morning your body will start to become alert and energized to face the day, but when the sun starts going down melatonin is starting to get released into the body and this stimulates sleep.  This system worked great for thousands of years until the invention of artificial lighting.  Now we are not dependant on the rising and setting of the sun to stay productive.

Different wavelengths of light have different affects on melatonin production.  Blue light, the light that is emitted from hand held phones, tablets, computer monitors and televisions is the most melatonin suppressive light.  In order for blue light devices to produce white light it must emit light at very short wavelengths which are close to peak melatonin suppression sensitivity. 

Although blue light is the strongest for melatonin suppression, common room light also has a large affect.  This can also be time and intensity dependant.  What I mean by this is that if you are in a very brightly lit room for let’s say an hour, you can get the same melatonin suppression affects by being in a room that is only half as bright but in a two hour time period. 

So does this mean you have to ditch the TV and unscrew all the light bulbs in your house? Daylight is a scarce commodity in the middle of a Calgary winter and for many of us it is dark on the commute to and from work.  Depending on the quality of sleep that you do get there are some things that you can do to still get the benefits of modern technology and still get a good night’s sleep.

There is an app called f.lux that you can install on your computer, tablet, etc. that will alter your screens brightness dependant on your time of day in your time zone.  Therefore, your device will be bright during the day and decrease intensity during the night, cutting down on the amount of blue light exposure.

Since we still have lighting in our house probably a better way to cut down on melatonin suppressing light would be to wear a pair of blue blocking glasses.  You can look like the rock star Bono by wearing your glasses at night but I am not sure if the glasses from the television commercials Blublockers will actually work for this.  There are a couple of different types that have been recommended, Uvex brand and Solar Shield.

If the app and the rock star glasses are not for you, you may just want to turn down the lights, turn off your electronic devices and do some leisure, non-work related, reading from an actual paper book.  How old school is that?