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Dr. Michael J. Breus Headshot

Do You Ever See Darkness Anymore?

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How long do you think you'd survive if you were to go back to the caveman days? No flashlights or incandescents. No cell phones or bright PDAs. No blinking router lights. No bright digital clocks to watch in your sleeplessness. You'd have just the moonlight and stars to guide you after the sunsets, and the black of night to be your blankie during sleep.

A recent article I read points to the fact so many of our modern gadgets blink, flicker, and shine to the point they can light up a room at night. You might not notice them during the day, but turn the "real" lights out at night and check out how many electronics still glow in blue, red, green, and yellow. The bedside clock-radio. The electric toothbrush. The coffee machine. The DVR. The laptop computer.

And if many or all of these "beacons" are in the same room, which can be the case for people living in tight quarters -- a dorm room, a single or bachelor pad, a New York City apartment -- then you could find yourself applying black tape to those tiny diode lights just to get a good night's sleep! (You don't want to disconnect them because they will lose their charge and not work when you need them.)

Another problem making all of this worse is the rising popularity of blue LEDs. Why? Because in dim light, our eyes are more sensitive to colors at the blue end of the spectrum. Blue LEDs look brighter and can be more disturbing to the wannabe sound sleeper.

If you were to take an inventory of your electronic parade in your home, I bet you'll find a few with blue blinkers. (Ironically, researchers are exploring whether blue LEDs can be used to keep people alert and awake. Scientists have discovered that a light-sensitive layer of the eye, which is different from the part that allows us to see, sends signals to the body that affect rhythms of wakefulness and sleep.) The good news, so far, at least, is that we don't think the low levels of blue light emitted by gadgets is enough to change our sleep patterns. Whew!

The lesson here harkens back to my usual suggestions for keeping a sleep-friendly bedroom. Heed the following:

  • Remove electronics that you don't need, including television (unless you require it to get to sleep -- for some it's relaxing), computers, laptops, and cell phone.
  • Avoid having the kind of alarm clock-radio that emits a strong digital light, especially a blue one. If your sleep patterns are regular, see if you can go without an alarm clock at all!
  • Use electric black tape to cover up any lights shining that are inevitably part of your bedroom setting.
  • Don't forget to check outdoor lights, too. If a backyard or front light is shining too brightly, or in the direction of a window, it could be disrupting your sleep.

We live in such a bright, digital world that we can forget that the very things of convenience can become the very villains of inconvenience when it's time to get our shut-eye. There's a time to look into the light ... and a time for darkness.

This article is cross-posted at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.

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