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.


Making Lasting Lifestyle Changes - Part 2 - Plan for it!

Now that you have decided what to change in your life, what next? Studies show that it helps to create a "change plan" that may involve the following:  

image courtesy of  Sura Nualpradid

image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid

1. Set a change date.  Set a date that is at least 2-3 weeks into the future so you have time to plan for your desired change.  Write it down, circle it on the calendar, and announce your intention to change to someone you are close to.  These steps will help make you feel accountable which can make it more likely for you to take the first step.  

2. Set the stage for change.  Make it easier for you to stick to your change plan by managing your environment, be it home, work, or your car.  It's important to set the stage for change in any environment you spend a lot of time in.  For example, if you are quitting smoking, get rid of ashtrays, extra packs of cigarettes and detail your car so that it no longer smells of smoke.  If you are cutting back on sweets and high calorie snacks, don't keep these tempting foods easily available at home in your pantry.  Make it difficult to access these foods.  To remind yourself to go for that evening walk with your dog, put Fido's leash by the door as cue to get outside.

3. Know your triggers.  In other words, what causes you to overeat, not exercise, smoke, and drink excessively?  It's important to take an honest look at what motivates you to do what you do in order to plan around it.  Many will say that "stress" is a major trigger and that a lot of our poor lifestyle choices are actually poor short term stress coping strategies.  When we feel tired, run down, or frazzled that we are less likely to stick to a healthy diet, exercise, stay in touch with others.  For each of your triggers, determine how you will handle the trigger so it does not derail your change plans.  If stress is a major trigger, what are you planning to do to reduce its impact so that you don't reach for that extra double chocolate doughnut?  

4. Seek the support of others.  Talk to people who support your plan to change and ask them to work with you.  It can help to enlist a walking buddy or have your family members participate in your new dietary plan.  Tell your family and friends why it is important that you change _______ .  Even if they are unable to participate, ask that they work with you and that they don't knowingly or unknowingly derail your change efforts.   

Making Lasting Life Changes

If you could change anything at all in your life, what would you change?  Which of these changes would be most tied to improving your overall health and well-being? Perhaps you are thinking that you need to exercise more often, make better food choices, nurture your relationships, stop smoking, manage stress better or prioritize taking care of yourself. 

Perhaps you have taken steps to make life changes in the past but became discouraged and gave up because the changes just didn't stick.  If so, you are not alone.  The vast majority of us will have difficulty making changes in our lives despite our best intentions.  Old habits are hard to break and new ones can be difficult to break in before they become habit.  In fact, it is not uncommon to attempt to make several change attempts before making lasting life changes. 

So what can we do to increase the likelihood of success?  To get started, ask yourself the following questions and write down the answers to get a better sense of where you stand with your desired changes:    

1. What are the good things I am seeking in life? Better physical health? Improved relationships? Better work/life balance? Improved ability to manage stress? You may find it helpful to answer this question in relation to your life values.  Examples of common life values include being healthy, being a good parent, being responsible, or being a good role model.   

2. What are my personal reasons for considering and making these changes?  List your reasons, not your spouse's or your best friend's or your doctor's reasons.  Yours.  Lasting change is more likely when you consider your own reasons for change and reminding yourself of these reasons when keeping up with change is difficult.  

3. Am I ready to make changes? In other words, is this a good time in your life to make changes and do you have the information, time, energy, and resources to make change happen right now? We know that change requires an investment of our effort, time, and energy.  Therefore, change involves opportunity cost in the sense that the time, energy, and effort you invest in making the change means that you may forgo something else that you value.        

4. What is standing in my way of making lasting changes in my life? In other words, think about your barriers.  What's holding you back or keeping you stuck? Perhaps it's not having the information, the resources or even the confidence to make change successful.  Take an honest look at your barriers and brainstorm possible solutions to each barrier.   

Answers to the above will hopefully help you get started with at least thinking about and mentally preparing yourself for making lasting life changes.