Monday, April 28, 2014

Poor Sleep: Too Much Light or Overstimulation?

I think of my twenties as the years I spent working my butt off and my thirties as the years I spent dancing. I don't want to think of my forties as the years I spent playing video games. To that end, I took one of the video games (Atlantis Pearls) off my computer a week ago. I still have a few others on it; I'll explain why that's OK in a minute.

Since I took the game off, I've been doing more of the things I wanted to do--karate, playing fold.it (a game that helps scientists), and playing the recorder. And even though I haven't been getting any more sleep, I've slept better and felt a lot more rested. It's not because I'm off the computer earlier, or getting less light exposure; I think it's because I'm less stimulated when I go to bed.

To me, this makes sense from an evolutionary point of view. We've had fire for 300,000 to 400,000 years, and our ancestors may have regularly slept in front of a campfire. For at least tens of thousands of years, some of our ancestors lived far enough north to have very short nights at the beginning of summer (see map and chart). If people who live in the far north suffer from sleep deprivation in the summer, I haven't heard about it. A Google search on the subject turns up very little. There's also the fact that a lot of people get sleepy in the middle of the day. I often nap on the bus after work.

I'm not an expert on hunter-gatherers, but my educated guess is that they didn't get adrenaline-pumping stimulation at night after their evening meal and before they went to sleep, aside from cozying up to their honey. Even up until 20 or 30 years ago, high stimulation before bedtime wasn't normal for anyone who didn't go looking for it. When I was a kid in the 80s, most video games were played at arcades at 25 cents a pop. You could play games like Donkey Kong, Frogger and Asteroids at home, but there was nothing like World of Warcraft* or Grand Theft Auto. There was nothing gritty on network TV aside from an occasional horror movie; it was fare like The Cosby Show, Magnum PI, and Cagney & Lacey. News wasn't constantly covered, stock prices were updated once a day in the newspaper, shopping was by catalog, classified ads or (usually) at a store, and if you wanted to exchange insults with someone, you had to do it to their face or pay 60 cents a minute in long distance charges if they lived far enough away. It was hard to stay up late if you weren't a night owl or having a party or watching Johnny Carson.

Now we can all be stimulated late into the night. I'm saying no more to overstimulation. The game Fold.it is interesting, and it's exciting to outrank opponents, but there are long stretches of running programs and thinking of better ways to fold the protein. Maybe some players can go at it nonstop, but I'm not there yet. TV shows that push my buttons turn me off and I've learned not to get drawn into long arguments online. Those thing overstimulate me. But light doesn't bother me enough to give me a bad night's sleep.

*Blogger Sami Paju once mentioned that he dreamed about World of Warcraft, even three years after he quit playing it.

6 comments:

Galina L. said...

Most people who live on the North report different mood set during summer time , like being slightly maniacs. They don't think about their desire to sleep less as a sleep trouble.I especially love visit Moscow in June .

tess said...

i agree! my last-thing reading even has to be something that's not intellectually stimulating -- a mere "good idea" can get my brain going too fast to fall asleep! :-)

Lori Miller said...

Tell me! Physics problems used to keep me up nights in college.

Lori Miller said...

That's good to know--I was hoping to hear from someone who's lived far north.

Lowcarb team member said...

I always sleep better if I've wound down, so to speak, after a busy day ...nothing that starts the 'little grey cells' as Poirot would say going into over-drive ending with me not having a good night's sleep.

All the best Jan

Lori Miller said...

Makes perfect sense. I don't know why I didn't think of that years ago.