Do You Have Trouble Sleeping?

I have insomnia. I admit it. I have trouble getting to sleep at night. I don’t know about you, but it has been difficult for me to face that fact, and even harder to face that word. Me, insomnia? It’s like when my doctor told me I had asthma; I didn’t want to acknowledge it.

I knew I had trouble going to sleep at night. I worked on the computer at night oftentimes, and I just wouldn’t be sleepy at bedtime. I compensated by staying up until I did get sleepy – usually around 1 or 2 AM. However, going to bed that late creates its own problems. For starters, it is well documented that going to bed after midnight disrupts your hormones and causes immune system deficiencies. It gave me chronic fatigue.

I don’t have documentation, but I believe, that as part of the hormone disruption I mentioned, going to bed too late causes cortisol deficiency. This deficiency in turn causes the symptoms of chronic fatigue.

After discovering the nasty consequences of going to bed too late I tried to mend my ways. I started going to bed around 10 to 11PM, though often as late as midnight.  It cured my chronic fatigue, but I started  suffering other sleep issues. And I just wasn’t sleepy that early! So I  resorted to using various sleep aids, such as Valerian and Benadryl. I suffered those remedies until I read this article that cited a study showing that Benadryl, along with many other common OTC drugs, caused mental impairment in the elderly. Yikes! I had been taking this drug steadily for a year.

I don’t know about you, but I value my cognitive function. I want to be sharp in my old age (and maybe even ornery). So, no more drugs for me! Now what was I to do while I stared at the ceiling most of the night? I tried turning the lights down and reading, but without the lights on all the way, I couldn’t see well enough to read. I even tried going to bed when I was sleepy (often around 8PM), but that didn’t work either. Not only did I not go to sleep, but I was awake all night – literally.

Fortunately, I soon found the solution to my insomnia. While it is simple, it is not easy to implement in today’s world. Perhaps that is why it is often overlooked. The solution was to turn off all lighting in the blue part of the spectrum during the evening hours. Simple, huh? I knew a little about the effects of lighting, but never realized how significant and specific the effects were of the color spectrum on melatonin production and sleep rhythms. We need bright light containing lots of blue during day, and dimmer light absent blue after sunset. Of course, this is exactly what nature provides via the sun. When we lit our homes with candles and kerosene lamps there still was not a problem since the spectrum of those light sources is without any blue. There wasn’t even a big problem with incandescent lighting, since it was more yellow than blue.

Nowadays (at least in my household), we have bright blueish compact fluorescent lights glaring while we stare into a blueish computer monitor. I did this all evening long. No wonder I couldn’t go to sleep. You would think that simply going to bed early with the lights out would eliminate the problem, but it didn’t however, at least for me. I think the explanation is that there is nothing to do in the dark except try to sleep. And slumbering without the requisite “dim light melatonin onset” beforehand just makes it worse. It is like taking a nap just before bedtime. The key is to continue normal activity until bedtime, but without bright or blue lighting.

How do we get away from blue lighting in our modern world, especially now that incandescent light bulbs are being banned? Do we go back to using kerosene lamps? I don’t think we need to move the clock back to solve this problem, but forward. LED technology has advanced enough now to solve all our lighting problems with greater comfort, effectiveness and efficiency than any other source. Unfortunately, this technology is so new, it really hasn’t been incorporated into any decent products yet. Everything out there is still using older technology which is just too dim to be of any real use. Also, because awareness of the harmful effects of blue light at night is so scarcely known, everything being sold produces either blue or blueish-white light. Blue LEDs are so trendy, you can’t even buy a night-light that doesn’t throw blue light. Aaaargh!

Here at ProvideYourOwn, we are hard at work to remedy that situation. There are four light areas that need immediate attention – ambiance lighting, work area lighting, computer monitors and bedtime reading lighting. There is a simple solution for the computer monitor issue. It is a piece of software. For Mac & Windows, it is called F.lux, and there is a Linux version called RedShift. When I first tried RedShift on my computer, the results were nothing short of miraculous. You tell the software where you are located in Lat/Lon, and it automatically shifts the monitor colors to use warmer colors as the sun sets. It never dims the monitor, just makes everything more amber. It is amazing how much easier it is on the eyes as well. You can even stare at it in a dark room and feel quite comfortable. Have you ever tried to view a computer at night-time without lights on? Then you know how annoying the bright glare is.

Back to my story. Since I spend most of my evening sitting in front of a computer monitor, this was the first fix I implemented. The results were almost miraculous. The first night of use, I went to sleep within a minute of my head hitting the pillow. The same thing happened the next night. After a few nights of instant sleep, I had turned off the red-shift software for some reason, and my insomnia was back. I turned it back on the next night – instant sleep again. While I was in the middle of starting to get this insomnia problem licked, I had just received my new Amazon Kindle. My children had given me some money for my birthday, and when the new low-priced Kindle came out, I decided it was what I wanted the most. So, here I was reading in bed with my new Kindle, and since it is E-ink and not a back-lit LCD, I needed a reading light. I took out my trusty book-light which used blueish-white LEDs, and guess what happened? You got it – no sleep that night.

Clearly, this would not do. It would not do at all. It’s a book-light for crying out loud! It is made for reading when the lights are out – at night. Why doesn’t it have a yellow LED? As I said before, so few people know about the harmful effects of blue lighting at night, that despite the plethora of book lights out there, they all use blueish-white LEDs. Here at ProvideYourOwn, we don’t wait around for someone else to solve our problems.  So I spent the day yesterday making a custom light for my Kindle, with a super bright yellow LED using the latest technology. The results exceeded my wildest expectations. Not only did it work great on the Kindle, but it doubled as a normal book-light as well. It even allowed me to write in a notebook.

Light for the Kindle

The Amazon Kindle presents special problems for conventional book-lights informative post. Because of its screen is reflective, your typical book-light causes glare from its reflection. The light I cobbled together solves that problem. I also found that even though regular book-lights are very light, when clipped to the Kindle, the added weight makes it very hard to hold. Since I wanted to make a book-light using regular AAA batteries, I was concerned the problem would be even worse. It turned out to be a balance problem. The book-light I made has great balance. I scarcely even notice it when it is on the Kindle. Another problem I had with regular book-lights was that they tended to light up my entire bed alcove, keeping my Beloved awake. The blueish light didn’t help either. This new light, in addition to a pleasant, sleepy, amber color, keeps the light confined to the book surface itself, so it doesn’t disturb anyone else in the room. As a bonus, since it uses regular AAA batteries, I can have bright light, long battery life, and use cheap ordinary batteries as well.

So how did it work with my insomnia? It was amazing. I was sleepy before I started using it at 8PM, and of course I perked up after that time like I always do. I worked in a darkened bedroom – both reading and writing notes for the next two hours using only this warm amber reading light. Unexpectedly, when my wife came to bed at 10:30, I wasn’t at all sleepy. I was concerned it wasn’t working. When my head hit the pillow however, it was the last thing I remember until waking after a full night of restful sleep.

kindlelight up close

Now that my prototype has worked so well, I am trying to put together a kit. I have some additional improvements I want to make as well, so stay tuned for further developments. If this project interests you and you would like to buy a kit, let me know. I would also like to know what kind of assembly work you would be comfortable doing. The whole thing requires soldering, including one SMT (surface mount) LED, and some hot gluing. Also, how much do looks matter to you? It is against the spirit of ProvideYourOwn to make use of plastic injection molding. so I am experimenting with using hot glue. Hot glue makes a really nice soft and strong plastic, but it is not the most ascetically pleasing thing by any means. The result is somewhat lumpy when applying it freehand. There are some advantages to hot glue however. It is strong and flexible. I don’t think it will break. If for some reason it does, you can always hot glue it – a welcome change from ordinary manufactured plastics.

Regarding the other two lighting areas – area/ambient and work lighting, I have plans to create some products for those needs as well, but it will take some time to do the engineering. Until then, buy some incandescent bulbs and install dimmers. Install and use the red shifting software. Getting out into the morning sunshine is always beneficial. Blue light isn’t always bad – just at night. In the daytime, you want blue light – lots of it.

Here’s to a good night’s sleep.

Does this Kindle/Book Light Interest You?

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Do You Have Trouble Sleeping? by Provide Your Own is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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  1. Florian
    Posted August 13, 2011 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    very inspirational!
    my screen has color changing funktions and I switched to amber right at the paragraph where I read it^^ I hope that will help me to calm down faster after computer sessions.
    There are really mostly blueish LED products out there to buy, but if you buy LEDs alone there are a lot of so called “warm white” LEDs (with no blue white). There are two approches they use for making white light. One is to use a blue LED and put a filter onto it (mostly used for the cheap bright ones) or they use a yellow LED and put a white filter onto it. I prefer the yellow ones much more!

    • Posted August 24, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

      Actually, all white LEDs are really blue LEDs. They put a phosphor coating over them to emit light in the yellow/green part of the spectrum. The more blueish white LEDs still have a strong blue component, whereas the warm white ones have most of energy emitted across the green to amber spectrum with only a small amount of blue. The single color LEDs like red, green or yellow emit only a single color similar to a laser. They do not use a phosphor coating. That is why yellow LEDs are best for getting sleepy – there is no blue at all. Ditto for red.

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