I have a ritual I perform every night before I go to bed in a hotel room. I take a towel from the bathroom and strategically place it over the digital clock by the bed. I do this because I find the blue light emanating from the devise disturbing to my sleep.
My previous husband always commented on how strange he found my clock-covering behavior, and he questioned the impact such a small colored light could have on the quality of my sleep. But some new research from the University of Haifa and Assuta Sleep Clinic has vindicated me.
Beware the little blue light.
According to the study the short-wavelength blue light, which is often used in digital tabletop clocks, damages not only the duration but the quality of our sleep. “The light emitted by most screens — computers, smartphones, and tablets — is blue light that damages the body’s cycles and our sleep,” explains Prof. Abraham Haim from the University of Haifa, one of the authors of the study.
The most significant result of the study was the disruption of sleep caused by contact with blue light. Specifically, 6.7 awakenings were recorded, rising to as many as 7.6 awakenings following exposure to strong blue light. No surprise, the participants reported that they felt more tired and in a worse mood after exposure to the blue light.
But it’s not just the bothersome blue light that can impact and disrupt your sleep; a whole spate of recent studies has shed light on the impact a lack of sleep can have on our lives and leadership. Here are a few of the important things to factor in before you head off to bed.
A rough night’s sleep makes you less emotionally intelligent.
According to new research published in the journal Neurobiology of Sleep and Circadian Rhythms, participants who were sleep deprived, versus well rested, had a harder time identifying the facial expressions of happiness or sadness the following day.
The research conducted by William D.S. Killgore, a University of Arizona professor of psychiatry, found that the identification of more primitive emotions — such as anger, fear, surprise and disgust — were not impaired.
“If someone is going to hurt you, even when you’re sleep deprived you should still be able to pick up on that,” Killgore said. “Reading whether somebody is sad or not is really not that important in that acute danger situation, so if anything is going to start to degrade with lack of sleep it might be the ability to recognize those social emotions.”
Sleep-tracking devices may be costing you Z’s.
Currently, an estimated 15 percent of U.S. adults own a wearable fitness/sleep-tracking device, such as Fitbit or Apple Watch, and another 50 percent might consider buying one. But a new case study published in the current issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine reports that we may be taking our nighttime data measuring too far.
When it comes to sleep, that enthusiasm for the devices may overshadow what they can deliver. “It’s great that so many people want to improve their sleep. However, the claims of these devices really outweigh validation of what they have shown to be doing,” says the report’s lead author, psychologist Kelly Glazer Baron, PhD, MPH. “They don’t do a good job of estimating sleep accurately.”
Baron goes onto explain that for many people who are pursuing the “quantified self,” the daily acquisition of data to enhance their mental and physical life has become a stressful activity within itself. Apparently, these snooze scientists have even coined a term for it — “orthosomnia,” meaning “correct sleep.” Baron points out that any intense fixation on data — especially potentially inaccurate data — can hinder efforts to assist patients struggling with sleep disorders.
Not enough sleep leads to riskier decision-making.
Researchers at the University of Zurich have identified a critical consequence of a chronic lack of sleep: increased risk-seeking. Students in the study who slept only 5 hours a night for a week showed clearly riskier behavior in comparison with a normal sleep duration of about 8 hours. It’s worthwhile to note that a single sleepless night had no effect on risk-seeking.
The most alarming part of the study, however, was that the weary study participants did not assess their risk-taking behavior to be the same as under regular sleep conditions. “We do not notice ourselves that we are acting riskier when suffering from a lack of sleep,” emphasizes Christian Baumann, professor of neurology and the head of the Clinical Research Priority Programs (CRPP) “Sleep and Health” at UZH.
So tonight before you drift off, turn off the blue light, unstrap the sleep monitor, and set the alarm to not go off for at least 7 hours. You’ll be happier and smarter for it in the morning.