Light, Screen Time and Bedtime

image courtesy of  KROMKRATHOG

image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG

I often advise clients who have difficulty sleeping to be mindful of their levels of light exposure throughout the day.  The reason is that our bodies have an internal circadian biological clock, which responds to light exposure, that regulates sleep and alertness throughout the day.

When light enters our eyes, specialized cells (i.e., suprachiasmic nucleus) in the brain send signals to orchestrate changes that lead to wakefulness, such as increase in body temperature, cortisol release, and delaying release of a hormone called melatonin, which is involved in promoting sleep onset.

Hence, to promote wakefulness, it is a good idea to get exposed to light, ideally natural light, first thing in the morning and during the day (even on a cloudy Vancouver day).  In the early evening, to encourage sleepiness and melatonin release, limit light exposure by turning off or dimming lights and limiting screen time from devices such as computers, tablets and smart phones.  Blue light emitted from these devices can be especially disruptive to sleep.

Recent research suggests that pre-bedtime screen time, compared to reading a printed book, is associated with reduced sleepiness, suppressed melatonin levels, and decreased alertness the next morning (even after sleeping eight hours).

For other ideas on how to sleep better, see my other blog posts on sleep strategies and CBT for Insomnia.


February is Psychology Month

February is Psychology Month.

The British Columbia Psychological Association and the Vancouver Public Library are partnering to present ten psychology talks during Psychology Month.  Topics range from parenting (e.g., "Raising Happy Teens") and neuroscience (e.g., "Building a Better Brain"), to talks on living better in a modern world (e.g., "Effective Coping Strategies for Our Fast-Paced World").  

A full list of presenters and topics can be found here.  All are welcome to attend.  

Supporting a Loved One with Depression

The Globe and Mail's "Have Your Say" Column recently featured a piece on how family and friends can help support a loved one suffering from depression.

I was invited to contribute to the piece and my brief comments are published here:

Mindfulness Practice: Benefits to the Brain

courtesy of  dream designs

courtesy of dream designs

Mindfulness involves training your mind to pay attention, purposefully and without judgment, to the present moment.  While mindfulness practice originates from Eastern traditions of philosophy and religion, mindfulness has been adopted by contemporary psychology for the management of recurrent depression, stress, anxiety, and chronic pain/illness.  

In addition to its benefits to mental and emotional well being, mindfulness practice appears to lead to changes in brain areas associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.  Read about this small, prospective study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital here: