I t’s a typical weekday night, and I’m sitting at my computer, working on a paper or reviewing lecture slides. Someone walks by, and then I hear: “Why is your screen pink?”
As college students, it is almost impossible for most of us to get the recommended amount of sleep. Most sources, including the National Institute of Health, advise adults to get seven and a half to nine hours per night, but the average adult sleeps less than seven hours. Between midterms, papers and club commitments, and especially as finals week starts, I often find myself sleeping much less than I need in order to feel well rested. To a certain extent, it’s hard to cut down on commitments and prioritize sleep. We should, at the very least, do everything we can to maximize the quality of sleep we do get.
So why the pink screen? I have a program called f.lux installed on my computer that coordinates the light on your screen to the time of day. Between sunset and midnight, my laptop slowly, almost unnoticeably, transitions to a pinker hue. If I’m working on an assignment late at night, anything blue appears to be purple or green.
Studies say you should avoid screen time for at least one hour before bedtime, but that’s hard to do when so much of our work relies on computers. This is why I use f.lux. Technology has been proven to keep us up, because the blue light in screens late at night affects our sleep cycles. Essentially, our circadian rhythms, which are linked to the brain’s suprachiasmatic nuclei, are synced to the natural cycle of day and night, and our melatonin production spikes around bedtime, which makes us feel sleepy.
Blue light in particular blocks melatonin, meaning that staying up later working causes us to feel more awake — and thus propagates a vicious cycle. According to a 2011 study, this is related to a recently discovered photoreceptor in the eye, called melanopsin, which is specifically sensitized to light in the 460 to 480 nm range: blue light. This means that melanopsin regulates our level of sleepiness based on blue light and the perceived time of day.
At the same time, I’ve also discovered the magic behind an efficient nap or night of sleep. Our sleep cycles work in 90 to 100 minute periods, with progressively deeper stages leading eventually into REM sleep. This is why sleeping six or seven and a half hours at night usually leaves you feeling more alert right away than getting an even eight hours. Waking at the end of a cycle, rather than having an alarm force you out of Stage 4 deep sleep, for instance, means that you won’t be as groggy and won’t take as long to get out of bed.
This principle applies to naps as well — take a 90-minute nap if you have time. If not, even 20 or 30 minutes in the afternoon can leave you feeling alert and productive for the next few hours. Too much longer and you’ll have entered deeper sleep, and will probably feel less alert than before. If you’re extremely tired, I have yet to try a “coffee nap,” but I hear they’re highly effective. Basically, you chug a cup of coffee right before a nap, and wake up after 15 or 20 minutes to the combined alertness of the nap and stimulation of the caffeine.
There’s a standard saying about college — out of studying, socializing and sleeping, you choose two. In reality, our responsibilities are much more nuanced, and we often neglect to completely fulfill certain aspects of our lives. I’ll readily admit that I’m almost always in a state of wanting to sleep more than I do, and that I end up prioritizing reviewing for an exam or talking to roommates over getting my eight hours. That being said, we might as well use science to make the best of whatever amount of sleep we can manage to get. And it’s usually pretty nice to see the world — or your computer screen — through rose-tinted glasses.
Maya Rawal is a College sophomore from River Forest, Ill. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “The Maya Project” appears every other Thursday.
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