Friday, April 27, 2012

Digital Clock 1, Unconquerable Soul 0

The last few months, I've been waking three or four times a night, needing to pee. Not urgently, not even pressingly, but enough to keep me from going back to sleep. So I pad over to the bathroom – about twenty steps in our new place – pee, wash my hands, and come back to bed. Not really a problem. In the old days, when my stress levels were higher and getting back to sleep was an issue, it would have been a big problem: I'd have been done with sleeping for the night. Still, I was starting to wonder if I should google it and see if maybe I had some sinister health problem developing. (The trouble with doing that, of course, is that the answer always turns out to be yes: just about anything presages health disaster, if you ask Google.)

One night Martha remarked, “You know, that clock really puts out a lot of light.” It was true. I had been thinking the same thing. It was just the glow of the green numbers on the digital clock, but they were pretty bright numbers. And then there was the glowing orange button on the power strip beside the bed. It was not only bright, but had an annoying occasional flicker to it.

“I've been thinking about putting the clock away,” I said. “Now that it gets light early enough, I don't need it.” (The only thing I use that clock for, you understand, is to tell me if I ought to resist the impulse to get up and start the day, and make myself get more sleep: in the summer, I don't need it – if it's dark I know I should still be sleeping.)

I would have gotten around to it, possibly even before Fall. But Martha, being a more proactive type than me, got around to it immediately. Away went the clock. I covered the orange power-strip light, too. It's been a week now, and the number of my nightly trips to the bathroom has abruptly dropped from three or four to zero or one.

The thing is, I knew that small amounts of light have a large impact on quality of sleep. I had read Dement's terrific book. But there's a strange resistance sometimes to believing that our own unconquerable souls are subject to the same influences as those of ordinary mortals. And to the notion that our unconscious brains, one way or another - did you know that human beings can detect light without their eyes? True fact - are picking up and processing information that our conscious brains never handle. No matter how thoroughly we understand that – we never really believe it.


rbarenblat said...

Oh, I do believe this! Back when our little guy was an infant, and I was being woken many times a night by his cries, I grew to loathe the baby monitor which sat by my bed. Even when I turned its volume all the way down (because I was so desperate for sleep, and I figured any *real* cries would wake me purely based on sound), the little spray of lights flickered brightly whenever he so much as whimpered in his sleep, and the bright lights on my eyelids woke me every time. Ohhh, how I hated that thing. I wanted to smash it with a hammer.

Er. Anyway. Yes, even tiny bits of light make a difference. I'm grateful that the digital clock beside my bed has a dimmer button, so I can make it barely glimmer at all.

Kathleen said...

Ah, another book to read! Aaauggh!

But I truly am fascinated this account of the light, the flickering light, and sleep, or lack thereof.

Sweet dreams to you.

Kat said...

I've read also that the specific wavelengths of light off computer and TV screens does wonders for screwing up circadian rhythms. I used to have a strict no-screens-after-dinner rule, but now that after-baby-bedtime is one of the only quiet times I have to work and write, I find that it does, indeed, take me quite some time to feel sleepy after I get off the computer, even if I'm really tired.

Kat said...

And even worse than annoying: the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) recently declared circadian-rhythm disruption as a class 2A carcinogen — placing it on the same level of severity as the effects of tobacco smoke on lung cancer."

Dale said...