Although the recent hurricane Irene caused much destruction in some parts of the east coast, there are actually some good aspect that arose from the storm. As the news reported, millions of people experienced power outages, with many of those people having to throw out spoiled food or even clean up some water in the basement. But what about the family and community bonding which resulted from the storm? Despite the bad which has resulted from Irene, there is still some good which came of it.
Some people think they couldn’t live without a TV or their computer, but the storm made many rethink that assumption. Here is someone who reporting from LiveScience who managed to experience the positive impacts of a terrible hurricane.
For example, not having the TV on in the background all evening allowed me to spend more time reading (with a flashlight, camp-style). And my apartment was suddenly, eerily quiet.
Wired to respond
I can’t turn to my computer for time-eating distractions or to check my email before bed. I can’t make any long, non-emergency calls because I’m conserving my smartphone’s battery, and there’s only so much reading by flashlight that one can take, so I now fall asleep by 10 p.m., instead of my usual 11:30 p.m. or midnight.
“We are wired to respond to light and dark, so what you are experiencing is the removal of the effects of the electric light bulb and Internet,” said Dr. David M. Rapoport, director of the Sleep Medicine Program at the New York University School of Medicine.
Sleep expert Karen Gamble, a psychiatrist and neurobiologist at the University of Alabama, agreed that my new early-to-bed routine is tied to the blackout. Although our circadian clocks are internal, and would continue to cycle even in constant lighting, they are also reset daily by lighting conditions, she explained.
“The timing of that light is critical,” said Gamble, who has authored several studies on the circadian rhythm. “Light during the early night/evening will delay the circadian clock, resulting in a later wake up time, and light during the late night/early morning will advance the clock.”
TV and Computers Interfere with Sleep
My habit of watching TV before bedtime may explain why I’ve always experienced bouts of insomnia and often have trouble staying asleep. Since the blackout, I’ve been dozing off as soon as my head hits the pillow and sleeping the whole night through. Usually, I need the air conditioner turned down to 70 degrees in order to comfortably fall asleep, but even the hot, humid, electricity-free summer nights haven’t disturbed my sleep.
“When you rely on the geophysical light cycle, as now, your internal rhythms become much more in tune with the environment,” said Shimon Amir, circadian rhythm researcher and director of the Center for Studies in Behavioral Neurobiology at Concordia University in Montreal.
“When there is no light at night, you restrict your social interactions, work and meals to normal hours; this helps ensure that your internal clocks are optimally tuned with each other and the environment.”
Even if my electricity returns on Friday night, as LIPA predicts, I’d like to stick to my new circadian rhythm, and the sleep experts were happy to offer some advice.
“When lights come back, you can still keep this new schedule, and probably feel good, by simply blindfolding yourself when you go to bed, like they do on airplanes. It works. I tried it,” Amir said.
As for my late-night TV habit, it turns out, TV screens and computer monitors produce a specific, bright, “blue” light that tells the brain to stay awake, delaying the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep and wake cycles, Gamble said. So turning off the electronics at least an hour before bedtime tells the body that it’s time to start prepping for sleep.
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