Sleep More, Stress Less

I can imagine how exciting and stressful starting study at the ANU can be. Can’t sleep because you’re too excited? Or perhaps you’re worried getting lost on your way to class, rocking up late and looking like a fool?  My advice to you: don’t worry about it and just sleep – you’ll be fine, trust me! (For all you excited people: it’s not THAT exciting, it gets old real fast, trust me).

“Why shouldn’t I be worried?” Good question.

New research from the University of California, Berkeley has shown that lack of sleep can contribute to excessive worrying. It turns out that insufficient sleep affects the behaviour of the amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates memories and emotions; and the insular cortex, responsible for a majority of human bodily functions and emotions, such that it behaves similarly to those of people with anxiety disorders.

Suddenly, an otherwise healthy person, who experiences a lack of sleep, begins to show signs of anxiety and stress.

OK – no worries. Let me ask you a question: Playing music on your iPod? Is Facebook on your smartphone the last thing you see before you sleep? If you answered “yes”, you might want to rethink your pre-sleep habits.

Professor Shantha Rajaratnam, a sleep researcher at Monash University, says there is growing evidence that the night-time use of portable digital devices is likely to compound the problems associated with artificial lighting, after a study showed that devices such as laptops, smartphones and tablets emit approximately 30 to 50 lux; about half the illumination of an ordinary room light.

“We know from preliminary reports that this level of light emission, 30 to 50 lux, is sufficient over a week or so to delay the timing of the circadian clock as well as suppress the production of melatonin,” says Professor Rajaratnam. “The extent of the response of the circadian clock will depend on how bright the light is – that is, how far away the device is from the eyes.”

Mela-what? Melatonin is a hormone our body produces when the environment is dark, and helps regulate and promote sleep; the lower your melatonin levels, the longer you take to fall asleep. Because we hold electronic devices like smartphones and tablets so close to our faces, their brightness interferes with our body’s circadian rhythms and production of melatonin. Because we use them right before we sleep, this is having quite an effect on our bodies and our sleep.

So what should you take away from this? Sleep is important! To have a good night’s sleep, your room should be as dark and quiet as possible. Try to refrain from using your smartphone or tablet right before you sleep – don’t panic, pictures of cats aren’t going anywhere. AND STOP WORRYING! Just relax and sleep… you’ll be fine!