Sunday, November 11, 2007

How to use a cell phone screen to wake up more quickly in the morning

{ Podcast this essay } When one's alarm (cellphone or otherwise) goes off during friendly summer mornings, usually there is sunlight to help the body's natural biological rhythms awaken the mind. However, in the winter this sunlight advantage fades (literally, to black), and depending on where you live on the planet, even disappears completely for a time.

An unhelpful solution might be to reach over and turn on a reading lamp, or even an end-table lamp if one is available. This has some drawbacks. First, and most obvious, there occurs a painful experience for your eyes, and probably will result in you negatively conditioning yourself out of doing it. You will probably self talk along the following lines: "I hate when that d@#^ light flares me blind every morning. Screw it, I'm going to lay here a bit longer." Before you know it, you're fast asleep, and any sleep schedule plans you made in your more rational state, before last night's turn-in, are now psychological history. Second, if you are lucky enough to be sleeping beside someone you care about, then you risk (or even guarantee) waking them, which is hardly polite, if not downright dangerous.

Here is a method I've found very helpful for moving from just barely being awake to being workably, even fully awake. It requires that you have a cellphone that uses the same kind of back-lit LCD screen technology as the typical flat screen computer monitor. (I have a Samsung phone[1], for example, which uses this run-of-the-mill technology. I believe most phones now use this type of LCD screen.)

First, after your alarm goes off, grab your phone, and open it close to your face, but don't stare directly at the screen. (I keep the angle of the light being emitted pointed away from me.) Second, slowly rotate the light source toward you. No need to overwhelm your eyes; so, when it gets too bright, stop the rotation, maybe even rotating it back away from you a bit. Third, repeat step two until your eyes are adjusted and you can look directly at the light without feeling irritated by the glare.

At the completion of this little exercise, you will be far more awake than you otherwise would be by just trying to will your drowsy consciousness away unaided.

Why is this trick effective? There are many surveys which have documented that people who spend more pre-bedtime hours using the Internet or watching television are more likely to report that they don’t get enough sleep. This is the case even when users of such technology get about as much sleep as those who don't use such devices before bed time. A particular study published in Sleep and Biological Rhythms[2] confirms this and argues that the use of such electronic media before sleep triggers a self-perception of having insufficient sleep. This means that Internet and TV use prior to bedtime affects the quality of sleep. It turns out that exposure to certain light rays can interrupt the body's melatonin production, and it is melatonin that promotes sleep:
Circadian rhythms are regular changes in mental and physical characteristics that occur in the course of a day (circadian is Latin for "around a day"). Most circadian rhythms are controlled by the body’s biological "clock." This clock, called the suprachiasmatic nucleus or SCN, is actually a pair of pinhead-sized brain structures that together contain about 20,000 neurons. The SCN rests in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, just above the point where the optic nerves cross. Light that reaches photoreceptors in the retina (a tissue at the back of the eye) creates signals that travel along the optic nerve to the SCN. Signals from the SCN travel to several brain regions, including the pineal gland, which responds to light-induced signals by switching off production of the hormone melatonin. The body’s level of melatonin normally increases after darkness falls, making people feel drowsy. [3]
Ironically, the advantage of using a cellphone upon waking can also solve the very problem that is created by technology on the other end of the sleeping ritual. How? First, just having a growing and ultimately focused source of light provides one means of waking you up. And second, the frequencies of that light helps reset that part of your brain which uses melatonin to reset circadian rhythms. However, it resets it at the time you don't want to sleep, not at the time you do. Naturally, this means that if one wants to increase the odds of having a good night's sleep, one should stay away from technology which emits such light frequencies.


[image] Untitled by think.bubbly Flickr October 24, 2007 (accessed Nov. 11, 2007)

[1] Samsung phone image.

[2] Nakamori Suganuma (et. at.) "Using electronic media before sleep can curtail sleep time and result in self-perceived insufficient sleep" Sleep and Biological Rhythms Volume 5 Issue 3 Page 204-214, July 2007

[3] "Sleep and Circadian Rhythms" HealthLink (Medical College of Wisconsin) (Accessed Nov 11, 2007)


Labels: , , , , ,


At 6:12 PM, Blogger pastorsbride said...

That's really complicated. I find it way easier to sleep.

At 12:36 PM, Blogger Padraic said...

You truly are brilliant

At 12:56 AM, Blogger Tracy Crouch said...

It's nearly midnight, and here I am reading this for the first time, the only illumination in the room is that of my computer screen. Could it be the explanation behind my poor sleeping patterns lately? Or is it my pregnant wife of 8 months who tends to take up more room when rolling over and nearly landing my melatonin laiden body on the floor...


Post a Comment

<< Home