Too Wired For Sleep?

When we’re unwell our devices become essential; they help us stay in touch when our immune systems can’t risk physical contact, they allow us to remain connected when we’re too tired to get off the couch and they provide welcome distraction when we’re bored or in pain.

I sometimes wonder how I would have coped without Facebook. It provided me with a quick way to share updates on my health with everyone that cared about me. The ability to do this simultaneously also meant I wasn’t anxious about missing anyone, or offending anyone because they weren’t told sooner than someone else (and I’ve seen this happen!).

When I was making the long haul to chemotherapy, being connected meant it was easy for friends to provide practical support, including driving me to and from treatment, or taking care of something around my home when my husband and I didn’t have the time or the energy to do it.

I used the internet to find guided meditations and relaxing music and both became part of my recovery. I used it to find an application for yoga routines and while I now have my own home practice, starting with an online guide was both cheap and motivating.

Thanks to the internet I had access to this great free blog site, which gave me a forum for recording and sharing my experiences with other people dealing with cancer and serious illnesses. Few things have been as gratifying as the messages I’ve received telling me that something I wrote helped someone else to navigate to climb back out of the pit.

I am still astounded that I can sit in my study and have access to reports on leading edge cancer research, complimentary and alternative therapies and latest best practice in exercise and nutrition.

I suppose it’s just a little ironic that the internet recently served up this piece of research:

How portable electronic devices impact our sleep

Sleep continues to be something of a mystery. Researchers know that depriving the body of sleep can induce a state akin to mental illness. Not only is sleep essential to good health but the duration and the quality of our sleep make a difference too. Part of the reason that sleep apnea is so dangerous is that it undermines the ability to sleep deeply.

It seems obvious that when we are tired we should sleep. In an ideal world we would be able to find our own rhythms and sleep whenever we needed for as long as we needed. Failing that, I think it’s worth taking some time on a regular basis to think about the duration and the quality of the sleep we’re getting and what we might do to improve it.

That could include spending much less time in front of an electronic screen.

Computers, tablets and phones disrupt our sleep for a number of reasons. It could be that the content we’re looking at is exciting or upsetting us. It could be that we become so interested in on-screen activity that we keep pushing bed time further and further away.

It’s now clear that the blue light emitted by screens can disrupt our brain activity and interfere with sleep. You can help to minimise this by making sure the last hour or so before you go to bed is screen free (yes, that does include the television).

You can promise yourself that you’ll avoid reaching for devices in the middle of the night, even if you’re having trouble sleeping. Much better to get up and have a glass of milk or do some meditation or gentle stretching and then go back to bed.

You might also like to install an application like f.lux on your devices. It shifts the colour of your screen depending upon the time of day. In the evenings, everything has a slightly orange tint to it. The developers claim that this will help to counteract the negative impact of blue light. You can find it here:

f.lux

Certainly when we’re unwell or recovering from illness or injury we should try to get more sleep than usual. Sleep is essential to healing.

Although most of us are understandably reluctant to take too much pain relief, it might also be an essential part of getting a good night’s sleep. Those with access to medical cannabis will already be aware of the immense benefits it provides in terms of sleep quality and duration. Perhaps the secret to its famous powers of healing is as simple as inducing deep and restful sleep so that the body can heal itself.

This week I’ll be taking some time to do a health check on my sleeping. Am I getting enough? Is the time I’m spending in front of my various screens interfering with my health? How might I improve the quality of my sleep? Good questions.

I’ll be using some of the articles and resources from Shannon Harvey’s excellent ‘The Whole Health Site’. Shannon is the journalist behind ‘The Connection: Mind Your Body’ and a constant source of great information. Here’s a link to just one of her articles on sleep:

Sleep and social jet lag

Perhaps we need to reconsider our attitude to sleep. I know that in the early stages of treatment I used to consider it ‘wasted time’. I had so many things to do and no time to do them! After a few weeks I realised that sleep wasn’t the pause between doing things, it was an active part of my recovery.

I’m now back to sleeping around eight hours each night but during treatment I was averaging ten hours. Understanding that this was exactly what my body needed was the key to embracing sleep for all of its amazing healing benefits.

I think it’s time to start recognising sleep as having at least as much importance as diet, exercise and state of mind. The amount and type of sleep we get is a significant component of how well we are, and how well we can be.

It’s also time to pay more attention to our screen time. I’m a huge fan of the internet, electronic devices and all the benefits they provide. I also know they can be somewhat addictive and disruptive to life, particularly when it comes to sleep.

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