The Digital Age

I fell down an internet rabbit hole the other night. Doctors recommend turning off electronic devices at bed time; TVs, phones, tablets, etc because the blue light emitted by these devices disrupt the circadian rhythms of our body which regulate sleep. As someone who struggles with insomnia, I always put my phone on Do Not Disturb and turn it face down on my nightstand when I go to bed (this allows people I pick to be able to call through while I’m sleeping for emergencies but I get no other notifications during the night). What if this is why we as a society have become crankier and more prone to violence?

We’ve all experienced sleepless nights and gone to work the next day and bitten someone’s head off because of something asinine due to us being overly tired. We anger faster, we get annoyed by things that usually don’t bother us, we are prone to get headaches or migraines, and feel “bad” all day.

While the digital age has come in leaps and bounds, it has also happened slow enough to allow most of us to adjust and adapt to it. What does that mean? My first five or six cell phones didn’t emit blue light that disrupted my circadian rhythm and so I got used to placing it on the nightstand next to my bed. Also by then, I was using computers frequently for work and TVs were becoming digital…. But those big boxy TVs of the 1990s and earlier didn’t emit the blue light that disrupts our sleep. Millions of people got used to sleeping with their TVs on and with their phones next to the bed and they are all blue light sources.

Great, you keep talking about blue light…. why? Blue light is a type of ultraviolet light and for most of human history the only source has been the sun. The rise of blue light sources occurred with the rise of LED lights. I don’t know if I can simplify light sources and emissions well enough to explain why LEDs in digital devices emit blue light. The best I think I can do is to tell you to actually look at the hue of the light emitted by the bulbs in your house. Warm light is yellowish in color and it’s emitted by “soft white” LED bulbs, fluorescents, and most incandescent bulbs. Cool light is emitted by daylight LED bulbs and it has a bluish hue think the really bright blue headlights on cars – that’s cool light – and it mimics the blue light we receive from the sun. This cool light is emitted by our digital devices.

This means the majority of Americans are chronically sleep deprived. We’ve learned to function at mildly chronically sleep deprived levels because we don’t perceive it, but it is taking its toll on all of us. We’ve known for half a century that insomniacs tend to struggle to lose weight, because good sleep is important to our fat storage and expulsion process. Good sleep is also required for our mental health and well being, not just our physical health and well being. People who get good sleep tend to be happier, have more energy, and are more productive both physically and mentally (If I wasn’t chronically sleep deprived I might be a more productive writer because my brain would work faster and better).

One of the key words there was “happier”. Just like a bad night’s sleep can make us noticeably cranky the next day, a week of bad sleep every night runs us down; we are more prone to becoming ill, we have multiple “bad days”, shit breaks from our carelessness and inability to maintain focus, our work suffers, we are less attentive while driving, we eat more junk food, take-out, and fast food because cooking meals requires energy that we don’t have (which is why when someone dies in a family or becomes seriously ill people send casseroles and other prepared foods – a death custom that has existed for centuries).

And it doesn’t take long for cranky to become angry when we are tired. That jackass that cut us off in traffic hasn’t just annoyed us into swearing at him from the comfort of our car, he’s angered us. Our blood pressure rises, adrenaline begins to pump, and now we want to punch him in the face instead of yelling or giving him the finger. Not only are we “cranky” but we aren’t as “happy” during this imaginary week of sleepless nights. We are down in the dumps and just not content. It’s amazing how much being happy or content prevents bad or irrational behavior. People who are happier in life are far less prone to violent or aggressive acts. You’ll never find a happy person beating their spouse or kids.

Therefore, is it possible that our increase in violent incidents such as road rage are partially related to our chronic sleep deprivation? I sleep in an eye mask and I know I can tell a huge difference in the quality of my sleep if something happens and it comes off or I can’t find it. And I feel the difference all day long. I am crankier, less productive, and generally just unhappy. Furthermore, my mask is a big part of my “sleeping routine” (which is a different post). J sleeps with the TV on. If I don’t have my mask, not only do I not get good sleep, I don’t fall asleep very fast. I toss and turn, but with my mask, even if I am only “sorta tired” when I go to bed, as soon as I pull the mask down over my eyes my body goes “bedtime”; I get comfortable and I’m asleep within fifteen minutes.

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