Killing your sleep to stay connected

You might benefit from changing your screen’s color temperature after sundown. Make it like twilight when it actually is twilight out. There. That’s the bottom line here. But first, let me give you some context to show how import this actually is for everyone.

How to Deal with Friends Falling Away After a Brain Injury

BrainlineStayConnectedVideoStay connected. I can’t emphasize that enough to a survivor. If you are able to make the effort I have to say it is worth it, especially for younger survivors. This video from Brainline.org focuses on that population and discusses how they can wind up isolated and lonely to the point of seri0us depression, even thoughts of suicide. It’s worth watching and just about 2 minutes long. But wait until after you read my post, okay? I’m talking about this from both sides of the fence here. I managed to remain in frequent contact with a core group of people, some of whom did a hell of a lot for me in those months following my release. I also lost so many people I considered very important in my social life. It took me a long long time to be able to remember things after my accident. I’m talking about the normal every day tasks and things you need a little organization to accomplish, like doing your part to keep in contact with your people. I’d forget to send emails, answer emails or returned missed calls, you name it; if it could be forgotten I was probably forgetting it. However, the stuff that really affected me emotionally formed more durable memories, which created this kind of cognitive double-standard. “Oh, sure… You can remember being mad at me the other day for but you can’t remember where your phone is or to shut the f@&#ing basement door...” Wait, where was I? Oh, yeah, staying connected and remembering where your dang phone is. The real point to this essay is to let you know something about your phone, your tablet or maybe you still use a laptop like me (I’m such a luddite). After my accident I used my phone so much I swear my wife was going to name it, like a pet or something (I would have been kinda ticked off if she started calling it ‘your woobie’ or something). I couldn’t see well enough to read books or a laptop so I used my phone because I could turn it and hold it in a way to make it easier to read. That of course extended well into the night when I should have been sleeping. But I was thirsting for visits and interaction of any kind, even in the hospital so my wife tells me. So now you tell me something. What do young folks use all the time these days? Uh huh. And what do you think a young TBI survivor is doing almost all day when they’re stuck inside or in bed? Social media is a big part of their network of human connections so if they can, they’re going to use the hell out of it to try and stay connected. This probably applies to anyone brain injury survivor who has these things. That thing may be wrecking your ability to get good and restful sleep – something the survivor absolutely needs plenty of for their recovery process. But there is something you can do about it (for free even) that could make the situation better. It’s an app designed to modify the light output from the LED light source in those devices when evening sets in. You enter in your location in the world and based on that latitude and longitude data the app sets itself to your timezone. I don’t think they adjust to goverment manipulation of our clocks but I haven’t really noticed any problems adjusting at those times. That could be because I’m red/green colorblind and don’t notice a dramatic change when the app goes into nighttime mode. However, just because I’m colorblind doesn’t mean I don’t have a typical circadian rhythm. I just saw hard data (in one person, but still) showing that it actually works thanks to a friend’s Fitbit. There are quite a few out there now. I use a program called f.lux from F.lux Software LLC on my MacBook. Check it out. There are apps that do the same thing on iPhones and iPads as well as apps for stuff running the Android operating system. I use Lux Dash on my Droid phone. Just search on a phrase like ‘blue light filter’ in the app store and you’ll find them with free versions. They’re not all the same so try them until you find the one with the options you like best. [Warning! Moderate to heavy geekiness ahead. Please use caution.] Billions of years ago when the earth’s atmosphere developed the sunlight that came here through it was tweaked by that combnation of different gasses around the earth. The physics of light passing through the things in our atmosphere at different angles causes it to have a consistent pattern throughout the hours of daylight. Now whatever you want to call it, God’s design or evolution or something else, is fine with me but countless organisms have gotten used to it over those millions and millions of years. We humans have developed to become diurnal beings. We’re typically active during the daytime and while the nocturnal animals are out doing their thing at night we are designed  to be sleeping. The brightness and colors of the light we see are signals the brain pays close attention to and not all the colors of the spectrum are prominent every moment of the day. For example the blue-ish colors (‘cooler’ tones) are out there loud and proud in the morning and through the afternoon. But when the sun beings to recede back down from its peak the color pallette gets ‘warmer’ as the blues fade and the yellows, oranges and reds take over. The suprachiasmatic nucleus, a little section of the hypothalamus, gets readings on this light and it shapes our individual circadian rhythms based on what data it gets. It manipulates our levels of melatonin and cortisol and they have effects on our sleep stages. Okay, so what was all that for? Well, the light emitting diodes (LED) lighting up our modern screens tend to be sending out full spectrum light when they’re on. When you look at one of those devices you’re sending light into your eyes of course but it is the same light every time unless you use an app to modulate it. Using your phone in bed puts it some 7-8 inches from your face, right? Well that’s like sticking 11 A.M. right in your face when you’re preparing to go to sleep. But your eyes don’t have a way to modify those light rays so that keeps your brain working as if it is playing by daytime rules, not nighttime. The hypothalamus is just acting on the data. There are mountains of EEG data indicating that our brains don’t follow their usual progression through the sleep stages when you send in confusing signals counter to what they got used to over the millions of years. The opposite is true with people who become blind after being able to see. Now it’s like they are in perpetual nighttime and they experience non-24-hour circadian rhythm disorder. The bottom line here is this: putting full spectrum LED light in your face in the evening robs you of precious time in the deeper sleep stages including REM sleep when you have your dreams. Now, I know you’d probably be okay missing a few repeats of that one where you’re only wearing your underwear and you have to speak in front of the board. Yeah, that one’s a hoot but we need to risk it because dreaming is important for good helpful sleep. Remember what I said about staying connected way up top here? Yeah, well getting enough restful, restorative sleep is also right up there. I dunno, maybe they can share the number one spot and rotate one week on/one week off or something. Do what you can to get some good sleep and yes, I know that brain injury survivors have all kinds of sleep problems. Having it screwed up by blue light at night from your phone doesn’t have to be one of them. And before I forget, I should tell you about my friend’s inadvertent single-blinded clinical study on herself. She had been using an app like f.lux for a while and felt it made a difference. She had gotten herself a Fitbit and one of the things it does is monitor your sleep. You can view that data on a graph if you want. Well, she noticed that she’d been feeling like crap for several days all of a sudden. She wasn’t sick but she just felt exhausted for no apparent reason and not sleeping well. Just blah and listless all the time, you know, like the 2013-2014 Knicks. She showed me the sleep data on her Fitbit and it was clear that her sleep abruptly went from a pretty steady pattern to a different one, all random and inconsistent. So I asked her what could have happened around that time that might be causing it. She eventually realized that she’d gotten a new smart phone and had forgotten to put the blue light filter app on it. It is easy to forget you have it because it works automatically if you set it up that way. She later told me that her sleep pattern improved almost immediately. It sounds like developing a tolerance alcohol and then suffering withdrawal when its taken away. That isn’t a good analogy, it just sounds like one. But that app must have felt like a good slug of the hair of the dog that bit ya. 😉

About peterwick

I was a long-time jack of all trades. Until suddenly I was different.
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