Sleeping with Your Gadgets On

2014-01-10 by Jason Freedman
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couple reading notebooks in bed

 

I have severe insomnia. Specifically, delayed sleep phase syndrome.   Which basically means that, like a teenager, my body actually prefers to stay up really late and wake up really late.  I saw a number of sleep doctors several years ago, and they told me the only way I would be able to consistently go to sleep at a normal time would be to live like a hermit at night: nothing but a candle after sundown.

I tried it for a month.

It was tortuous.  To be fair, it did work.  Removing the light around me at night did help me go to sleep much earlier.  I would read or write–those were my two options.  If I found a good book, I’d just end up reading the book all night long though.  So I tried reading boring books, but that was soooo boring. The routine was just not sustainable.

 

***

 

Fast foward to today.

Every night I might read a little while on my Kindle or sneak in a game of Settlers on my iPad. When I actually go to sleep, I like to watch re-runs of old television shows on my laptop; I think I’m on my eighth trip through The Office.    Usually, in the middle of the second episode, I doze off.  Usually before midnight.

This is my routine and it works for me.

Being able to fall asleep early has massively improved my quality of life.  I’m able to get up early without an alarm and actually be productive in the morning.  Perhaps more importantly, I don’t spend hours trying to fall asleep. It generally takes 30 to 40 minutes.

For me falling asleep takes a cooling down period where my mind slowly disengages.  That’s why watching old TV shows is so effective; it gives me something to focus on without letting me really engage.

I am able to do all this without letting the blue light of my devices keep me awake.  If you remember, I once wrote a post called “Become a Morning Person. How to End Insomnia for $520.99” and in it I talk extensively how important light regulation is to beating insomnia.  In short, I need really bright lights in the morning, and I need to avoid almost all blue light at night.  Even a little bit of blue light is enough to keep me awake, and backlit screens are one of the worse sources of blue light for your eyes.  But after much iteration, I have found ways to block almost all of the blue light, and it has allowed me to use my devices at night without any sleep penalty.

Here’s how you can do it as well.

 

How to block all blue light from your devices

 

F.lux on your computer screen

Obviously, anyone who is reading a post like this already has f.lux.  It’s a no brainer. Download it for free here.  It will change the color temperature of your screen so that it emits less blue light.  But most people wrongly assume that f.lux blocks all the blue light.  In fact, it blocks a pretty small percentage; you have to go much further, especially if you have severe insomnia like I do.

 

Screenshade on your computer

This is a little free download for Macs that basically puts a transparent PNG in front of your screen. Toggle it whenever you’re ready to turn it on. Obviously you’ve already turned your dimmer down as far as it will go.  Screenshade effectively makes it so that your screen is twice as dim. But trust me; once your eyes adjust to a dark room, it will still be plenty bright.  So, even this is not enough.

 

Plastic filters

I use a blue light screen filter from LowBlueLights.com which I attach to my laptop screen.  With f.lux on, the dimmer down, and  Screenshade turned on,  this plastic filter then removes any remaining blue light. The screen is now so dark that you can barely tell if it’s on during the day.  But at night, with 2 to 3 minute for your eyes to adjust, you’ll still be able to watch videos.

 

F.lux for your iPad

Yes, you can get f.lux for your iPad, but you have to jailbreak it.  It’s actually the only reason I bother to jailbreak.

 

Plastic filters for your iPad

You can also get stick-on plastic filters from LowblueLights.com as well.  This plus f.lux plus turning the brightness well down makes your ipad totally safe to use at night.  The challenge is these filters are stickers, so they don’t come on and off very easily.  I’ve had to designate this iPad for using at night time only, since the filter blocks out too much light for it to be usable during the day.

 

 

There you go, just a few little gadgets to help you use your gadgets.   Happy sleeping.

 

 

Discuss on Hacker News.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Jason Freedman

Entrepreneur, Co-Founder at 42Floors, Co-Founder at FlightCaster, YC-alum, and a Tuck MBA

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  • Steffan Howey

    I also experience insomnia, but I’m not so sure it’s been a bad thing for me. I find that I am most productive at night while working on my startup because there just aren’t any distractions that can get to me. My girlfriend and dog are asleep, the world of social media has died down, and my hipchat isn’t bouncing in my dock because my co-founder is a normal person who sleeps at night. But when I finally get around to going to sleep I always have to fool around with my iPhone or iPad first and that ends up giving me the dreaded closed-eyelid-flutters. I’m definitely going to check out some of these alternatives so that I can begin functioning like a semi-normal human being. This was a great read.

  • Cy Khormaee

    Thanks Jason – this a great post. My whole day revolves around getting a good night’s sleep and I can’t wait to try F.Lux to see if it can extend my late night email window. I’ve also found daily workouts (15 minutes – just enough to work up a sweat) and meditation to be big pieces in helping me sleep effectively.

  • Jeffry houser

    My brother is an engineer with an emphasis in lighting. He actually recommends blu blocker glasses 2hours before bed. I m not sure of the extent of his research into this, though.

  • http://henrystanley.com Henry Stanley

    What about orange glasses? They’ve been suggested as a good treatment for delayed sleep phase syndrome. I’m trying them myself in addition to f.lux.

  • gc

    lol at peasant ios race. just get an android with oled, turn on night mode or red in render effects, and join the master race

  • SleeplessInCyberspace

    I was diagnosed with DSPS as a kid, and the solution that worked for me is melatonin. I use a 300mcg supplement each night, and it’s the only way for me to fall asleep in a reasonable amount of time. I still have trouble waking up in the morning (it can take me over an hour from the time my alarms start going off until I am actually awake), but at least I do actually get up in the mornings instead of the late afternoon.

  • lostchemist

    How are you determining that there is still blue light coming from your devices after the various measures have been implemented? I’ve been using orange tinted shop safety glasses and I have a hard time imagining that any appreciable blue light would make it through

    • http://henrystanley.com Henry Stanley

      This is a tricky one – I’ve wondered the same about my orange-tinted safety glasses. If I watch TV while wearing them, I can still see blue colours (though they’re much dimmer, obviously), but presumably if the goggles blocked blue completely then blues would appear black. Is this the case for you?

  • Jeff Smith

    Nice to see someone else trying to take action when doctors won’t help. I use the SleepShield iPad filters ( http://orderstrip.com/sleepshield/shop ) and they work great. I also put the new Good Night LED Sleep Lights in my bedside table ( http://j.mp/1f9udlO ) in my bedside table. Wouldn’t part with them. I’ll check out Flux for my laptop now.

  • http://redpilltruepill.tumblr.com Keith Binkly

    Low-tech solutions that work for me include 1) closing my laptop, 2) switching my iPhone onto airplane mode, and finally, 3) turning it face-down on my nightstand.

    The faint awareness that my mobile device is receiving messages keeps parts of my brain active, which contributes to restless sleep. I’d be surprised if that were not the case for a lot of people. I will attest that airplane mode is a magic sleep elixir, and it doesn’t put you at a groggy disadvantage in the morning, like melatonin (or benadryl for that matter). Plus, it’s so fun to turn off airplane mode in the morning and feel super popular!

  • kiki
  • Bob Friedman

    Here’s another gadget that can help block blue light. It’s the Beam N Read LED Hands Free Light. The 6 LED model includes a blue-light-blocking orange filter and a red filter. My wife reads in bed with the orange filter. I use the red as I find it even more relaxing than the orange. I also use F.Lux on my computer. The light is worn around the neck instead of attaching to a book so its useful for many other purposes as well. (disclosure: I’m affiliated with the company that makes the light)

  • Bill Syrjala

    One thing a lot of people dont know is that you must also filter green light, as well as blue. I believe there are screen filters and glasses that will do this …. trying to find some for purchase.