I recently spent three days working in another city. My accommodation was a neat (think tidy, not good) hotel room. You know the type, a large double bed made of two singles pushed together, a bathroom, kettle, minibar (junk food & tiny booze bottles ), and a massive TV positioned on the dresser opposite the foot of the bed.
Not being a fan of TV I was inclined to ignore it. But I was also tired, it was too early for dinner, and so I did the unthinkable and turned it on. It occurred to me that I’d just put it on “for company” but when the rubbish company I’d invited filled the room I felt compelled to sit and watch rather than asking them to leave.
I pressed the guide button to scan the programs for the evening. More junk was scheduled on every channel for as long as I could remain conscious, hold the remote, or just be bothered. What to do? Choose an old rerun and let my brain turn to jelly? Fortunately self-preservation kicked in and I turned it off.
However, the next thing I reached for was a more recent disruptive technology, my phone (having deliberately left my laptop at home). Surely one game of Sudoku wouldn’t damage my IQ. I resisted the urge to recheck email or facebook, but as I tapped the ‘Resume Game’ button the expression “killing time” crept over me. I was horrified. You should be too. Life is short. Each of us has a finite number of days left, tomorrow it will be one less. How could we ever think there’s enough time to kill?
Yet, we can’t help our devotion to these ubiquitous screens. We’re hardwired to gaze at shiny movements, like fireplaces or reflections on water. In the grand design this is probably to help us, to allow our minds to rest and induce a meditative silent state where we can tune into our inner voice, our higher self, our spirit.
But gazing at manufactured shiny movements, that’s another story. They do exactly the opposite, pumping us full of things to think about, using artificial light that disrupts sleep patterns, electromagnetic radiation that wakes the brain and increases tumour risk, and who knows what else?
Being my first night of three, I had to find a healthy option. Time to roll out the champion of mental and physical health - sleep! Sleep is essential because it’s incredibly good for us. It helps us reinforce neural pathways allowing us to consolidate what we’ve learnt during the day, it’s also when our brain cleans up toxins produced by neurons throughout the day. Skipping sleep can impair memory, attention, and our problem solving ability. It’s toxic to brain cell connections and can disrupt our insulin regulation causing weight gain.
And what is the number one disruptor of sleep these days? Screen use. Light from TV isn’t great, but it’s usually at a distance. Light from computer and mobile phone screens has photons that stop us producing melatonin, making it more difficult to get to sleep as well as reducing the quality and duration. This effect is not just while you’re using it, but up to an hour afterwards (or more depending on the study). There is also evidence that radiation from sleeping with a phone next to you can increase electrical activity in the brain during sleep,.
Knowing all of this, I opted to read a few chapters of a book, a story, then off I went (no wonder kids love them). In the morning I woke naturally (no alarm), with a clear head and enough time and energy to go for a run along the river, watch the sun coming up over the city, breathe some fresh air, explore the area I was staying in, observe the local birdlife, and gratefully acknowledge the experience.
So this year, as our unseasonably warm autumn comes to its inevitable close, and winter continues to shorten and cool our days, I’m unplugging and hitting the sack. If you need me, I’ll be up early, out in nature somewhere, living (rather than killing) time.