Sleep: Your Secret Study Habit

Don’t snooze on the importance of sleep with these 3 tips!

I was driving around one recent Sunday when a radio interview cut through my daydreaming and, no joke, changed the way I saw my environment. Johann Hari, the author of Stolen Focus, was talking about all the different ways our attention is in a tug-of-war with all the influences around us—everything from social media apps that try to keep us scrolling to the foods we put in our mouths. 

One of Hari’s main arguments is that sleep is under threat. Around the world, children are sleeping about 1.2 hours less on school nights than they were one hundred years ago (check out the study here!). I tutor a lot of teenagers and it seems like my students are perpetually exhausted. There may never be enough hours in the day, especially if you’re a teen with a bunch of AP classes and baseball tryouts coming up. But if we can improve the quality of sleep that we do get, that goes a long way towards having the energy to pay attention to what we value the most. And it’s not just about staying awake in class – lack of proper sleep in teens has been linked to an increased risk of depression, diabetes, and hypertension!

Hari mentioned one particular sleep scientist over and over again: Dr. Charles Czeisler, Baldino Professor of Sleep Medicine and Director of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Czeisler, who has advised everyone from the Boston Red Sox to the US Secret Service on how sleep affects performance, has done studies on how light affects sleep. With reminders on our smart devices about our screen time and app usage, it won’t surprise you to learn that we are constantly surrounded by light sources, and those light sources are confusing our brains and making us think we should be awake for longer. The brighter and bluer the light is, the more disruptive that light is to our circadian rhythms, which are vital for rest. Guess what kind of light our electronics emit? That’s right–blue light.

So what can you do to make sure sleep isn’t getting in the way of your daytime goals? Try these three tips from the experts:

1. Replace blue-enriched light with red- or orange-enriched light after sunset.

I’ve installed f.lux on my computer so the light it emits becomes more orange-enriched as the sun goes down and I finish my day. You can even have f.lux change your lightbulbs around your house!

2. Try to get technology-dependent tasks done at least two hours before bed.

Need to write some notes by hand for class? That’s a great task to save for nighttime, when you’re trying to avoid all that pesky blue light.

3. Put the phone away!

I know, I know, easier said than done. But that blue light delays the sleep instinct. Lots of phones have sleep settings, which can turn on automatically based on your bedtime and reduce blue light while also limiting notifications (and therefore temptations).

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