Fall Asleep Faster and Sleep Better by Reducing Blue Light Exposure Before Bedtime

In today’s world, late-night exposure to bright lights is one of the most common issues affecting sleep quality; this is often attributed to the widespread use of light-emitting screens.[1] Basically, when you check your phone, tablet, or laptop while lying bed, you’re making it more difficult for yourself to fall asleep, while also reducing your sleep quality.

 

Picture of a laptop, laying on a bed in a dark room, and emitting tons of blue light.

 

Why blue light is the main problem

Your devices emit light from all across the visible spectrum, which is the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to the human eye.[2The image below shows the wavelengths of light in the visible spectrum, as well as the wavelengths of ultra-violet light, which falls directly below the spectrum, and infra-red light, which falls directly above it.

 

The spectrum of visible light (colors and their wavelengths).

 

Light at the 450-470 nm range (i.e. blue light), has been found to be a strong signal for melatonin suppression.[3,4] Essentially, blue light gives your body circadian input, which tells it that it’s not yet time to go to sleep.[3,5] Overall, light at a shorter wavelength tends to lead to a greater suppression of melatonin production, which is why blue light, which has a relatively short wavelength, is so disruptive. Conversely, red light, which has the longest wavelength (of visible light), is the least disruptive to your ability to sleep.[3,4]

 

Reducing blue-light exposure

In theory, you want to avoid all types of light as much as possible before going to bed.[6] However, this isn’t really feasible, so the next best thing is to avoid blue light, which is the most detrimental to your sleep quality. One of the best solutions available are apps which filter out blue light emitted from your screens.[7,8This significantly reduces your blue-light exposure, without requiring any effort on your part (aside from downloading the app). The following are a few recommendations for free, high quality programs which do this:

  • For Windows / Mac / Linux: get Flux.
  • For Android: get the Twilight app.
  • For iOS: there’s a built-in Night Shift mode for this (ever since iOS 9.3).

These programs are all modifiable, so you can select your preferable level blue-light filtering, and set them to start up automatically at a specific time. In addition, an added bonus for using them is that they significantly help with eye strain if you tend to look at screens in a dark environment. Using your laptop with the lights off will be much more comfortable now, and you won’t have to feel like someone is aiming a projector in your eyes you when you look at your phone late at night.

 

Other sources of blue light

In addition to screens, blue light is emitted by other appliances, most notably fluorescent light bulbs and LED lights.[3] Unfortunately, the light coming from these sources can’t be easily filtered via an app. There are, however, some methods for reducing blue light exposure from these sources:

  • Replace these lights where possible.
  • Cover them with something that dims them, or only allows red light through (e.g. red, cellophane gift wrap).
  • Avoid exposure to such lights as much as possible before bedtime.

The last two points are applicable in general, even if the light source isn’t blue (e.g. incandescent light bulbs). Remember: the closer you are to going to sleep, the less light you want to be exposed to.

 

Summary and Conclusions

  • Exposure to light before bedtime makes it more difficult to fall asleep, and reduces sleep quality.
  • Blue light, which is emitted by screens and fluorescence bulbs, has the worst impact on your sleep.
  • Avoiding such light can help you fall asleep more easily, and sleep better.
  • Apps which filter out blue light from screens can help you do that without much effort.
  • You can also replace or cover blue/bright lights where possible, and avoid them before going to bed.

 


The Cognitive Benefits of Chewing Gum

Gum-chewing is often touted as a way to help reduce anxiety in stressful situations. There are plenty of studies on the topic, which are well-summarized in a review of the effects of gum chewing on cognitive aspects such as stress and alertness. The review found some useful and some conflicting results on the topic:

  • Research looking at short-term stress has shown a lack of significant effects of gum-chewing on self-reported stress and anxiety, and contradictory findings on its effect on cortisol levels (which serve as a hormonal stress indicator).
  • Research looking at long-term and chronic stress found that gum chewing may reduce self-reported stress.
  • Gum chewing was found to have a positive effect on subjective alertness. However, the effects on alertness biomarkers and cognitive performance were not consistent (meaning that people claimed they were more alert, but the researchers couldn’t always find physiological evidence for this).
  • Chewing gum was found to sometimes improve reaction time in response to auditory, but not visual stimuli.
  • The effects of gum chewing on memorization and recall are at the moment too inconsistent to paint a clear picture.

 

Picture of chewing gum.

 

Overall, the review concludes that chewing gum may have some beneficial cognitive effects. These effects most likely consist of increasing short-term alertness and reaction times, while potentially also reducing long-term and chronic stress.

In the time since the review was originally published, new research has come out, which corroborates the findings on improvement in alertness and reaction times.[1,2,3] As such, while gum-chewing shouldn’t be treated as a magical solution to anxiety, it can be considered a small psychological trick, which can help you concentrate a bit better.

Since the cost of trying it out is so low, it’s worth experimenting for yourself, and checking whether this trick works for you. Furthermore, even if gum doesn’t help by itself, the placebo effect could be beneficial. Essentially, if you believe that the gum will help you be calmer and more alert, there’s a good chance that it will. Interestingly, you can often benefit from this effect, even if you know it’s a placebo.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • Chewing gum might have some short-term cognitive benefits, in terms of increasing alertness and improving reaction times.
  • Chewing gum may also help reduce long-term and chronic stress.
  • It’s worth testing this on yourself, since the cost of trying is low.
  • You may also benefit from the placebo effect (yes, even if you’re aware of it).

 


“Mise en Place”: Become More Efficient in the Kitchen and in Life

Mise en place is a French term which means “putting in place”. It’s most frequently used in a culinary context, where it signifies that you should prepare all your ingredients and put them in place together with the necessary tools, before you start cooking. This simple concept is one of the most common and effective tools used by chefs and amateur cooks, which is why it’s a required skill in culinary schools.[1,2,3]

 

Picture of prepared ingredients and tools in the kitchen.

(It’s pronounced ‘meezon-plas’, in case you were wondering.)

 

Applying ‘mise en place’ in the kitchen

There are several steps to applying this technique:

  • First, choose a recipe and figure out which ingredients and kitchen utensils are needed. Doing this before you start cooking allows you to spot missing items before it’s too late to get them or to change a recipe.
  • Prepare all the ingredients so that they’re ready to be used: measure what needs measuring, chop what needs chopping, etc.
  • Group ingredients and utensils together so that they’re easy to find and use while cooking.
  • If there are ingredients that require special preparation (e.g. nuts that need toasting), you can take care of them before you start everything else, so that they don’t cause a delay in the middle of cooking.
  • One caveat: if you prepare accordingly ahead of time, you can use periods of waiting in order to get things ready for the next step in the recipe. Otherwise, use these waiting periods in order to clean up as you go along, instead of leaving all the cleaning to the end.

 

Applying ‘mise en place’ in other areas of life

While mise en place is a practice that is most commonly associated with working in kitchens, many people use it as a guiding principle in order to increase their productivity and improve their workflow in other areas. There are some superficial differences in such cases: your ingredients aren’t food, your environment isn’t a kitchen, and your tools aren’t kitchen utensils. However, the idea behind this technique remains the same: better planning and preparation ahead of time facilitates the work process. This is especially important in jobs and processes that require a high degree of concentration, where even a small distraction leads to a significant interruption in your workflow.

In general, the concept of preliminary preparation and planning is the one most commonly associated with mise en place. In practice however, mise en place is a system which encompasses additional concepts, such as slowing down to speed up, which entails that it’s better to take longer to perform an action, if it means that doing so will lead to improved performance and save you time in the long run. These concepts and others are covered in the “Work Clean” book, which contains an in depth discussion of mise en place, and how it can be implemented in your life.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • Mise en place is a technique which can be used to improve your workflow.
  • It is most commonly used in reference to cooking, and mainly means that you should plan your process before starting and prepare your ingredients ahead of time.
  • This technique can also be implemented in other areas of life.
  • In practice, mise en place encompasses additional concepts, such as working more carefully in order to save time in the long-run.