Sleep used to be so simple. You’d go to bed, read a book and nod off. Then, around eight hours later, you’d wake up, either naturally, as one of your one-and-a-half-hour sleep cycles came to an end, or rudely, with the intrusion of an alarm clock.
Now things are more complex, and it’s our own stupid fault. We insist on reading tablets and phones before bed, and these beam blue light into our brains. Our brains interpret this as daytime sunlight, and hold off producing sleep-regulating melatonin. Result? Delayed sleep, which is of poor quality once we do finally nod off.
But of course, there are gadgets to help.
Thijs Smeets’s Lililite takes the hassle out of reading paper books in bed. It combines a zig-zag shelf with a warm downward-facing light that illuminates your paper book from above, instead of the shadow-casting sidelight of a traditional nightstand lamp. Laying your open book over the inverted-v section of the wavy plywood unit cuts power to the light, and also keeps your place in the book.
The other half of the Lililite gives a place stow more books, or–more likely–your iPad or e-reader. Add in a USB charger to juice your gadget while you sleep and this would be perfect.
has just launched the Nox light, a bedside lamp that works with the company’s RestOn sleep monitor. The wakeup part is the same as you’ve seen before–the RestOn pad lays under you as you sleep and monitors your sleep cycles. When you get close to your chosen wakeup time, the device waits for you to reach the shallowest part of your cycle and slowly cranks up the light, along with some soothing sounds.
At night, the Nox lamp produces red-wavelength light to help boost melatonin levels, along with yet more music. This makes my usual goodnight strategy–a slug of bourbon and Brian Eno’s Ambient Music for Airports on my iPhone–seem primitive in comparison.
The Nox also monitors background noise and CO2 levels, charges your phone via USB, and displays the temperature and time on the front panel.
If light can help you sleep, it can also keep you alert. Computer-controlled lamps like the Ketra S38 Color Changing LED, or Philips’ Hue range can subtly shift their hue according to, well, according to anything.
The Ketra bulb costs a scary $150, but offers full-spectrum light, like the sun. Most bulbs only output a few light wavelengths so, although they look white, they don’t contain all the colors of sunlight. The full-spectrum Ketra can not only make a good approximation of daylight, it can also shift to any color you like. Thus, it can give off a bluish light during the day to up your productivity levels, or calm you down at night.
In fact, the company claims that “red light heightens excitement level and is associated with love and warmth.” Maybe it has a different kind of red light in mind.
The Hue can be connected to web services like IFTTT, which hooks other web services together. The obvious tricks are things like having your lights come on when you get home, or flashing them when phone alert comes in, but you could also come up with something to redden your lights in the evening, depending on the time of the first appointment in your calendar tomorrow.
Viewed like this, home-automation starts to seem a lot less gimmicky.
Neurologist George Brainard says “Light works as if it’s a drug.” So maybe we should start treating it as one. You don’t drink an espresso before you go to bed, so why would you give a stimulating jolt of blue light to the melanopsin-filled receptors in your eyes, just before you try to sleep?
Around two years ago, I realized that seven-and-a-half hours is my optimum sleep time, and my cycles run in almost exact 90-minute loops. If I put my head down at midnight, I wake at 07:30, and while I’m not exactly jumping out of bed, I’m awake, and feel no need to roll over and go back to sleep. In fact, the cycle is so reliable that I don’t use an alarm, even when I have a plane to catch (I avoid redeye flights).
It might not seem very hip to have a fixed bedtime, or to stop drinking delicious coffee after mid-afternoon, or to quit drinking alcohol, or to run an app on my computer that adjusts the color of the display at night to help me stay relaxed. But the upside is painless early-morning starts, all-day alertness, and almost no colds or flu for years.