CTO Compass

How to wake up more refreshed – try installing a Digital Sunset

CTO Compass series

What's one thing that almost every creature on the planet has in common? It's the need for sleep.

I’ll go further and say that getting enough sleep is one of the most important things you must do. If we want to show up each day at our best, then getting a good night’s sleep is critical.

However, in today’s world, it seems to be something we don’t value or prioritise, instead choosing to do things counter to thousands of years of evolution. All the sleep research that’s been done points to the fact that most humans need 7-8 hours of sleep per night. And it’s not enough to be asleep; it needs to be good quality sleep so that your body can rebuild and recover itself.

Are you getting enough sleep? Or do you wake up bleary-eyed, dragging yourself out of bed when the alarm clock goes off, and require a ton of caffeine to start to feel functional?

One of the best ways I have found, especially as someone who spends a large part of my day looking at a computer screen, is to install a digital sunset practice. It has had an outsized effect on my sleep habits.

For a long time, I thought I was a night owl. I would be up late, on a computer, watching TV or playing video games, then I’d go to bed and lie awake, often for a good hour or so, until eventually falling asleep. Then, I’d be woken by my alarm and have to drag myself out of bed to get ready for work. I would bumble downstairs in my dressing gown, slowly eat breakfast and start my coffee intake to feel remotely awake. It would be around 11 a.m. before I could do my best work.

Contrast that to today. I haven’t used, and don’t need, an alarm clock for several years. I wake around 6 a.m. naturally and am ready to jump out of bed nine times out of ten. I grab my clothes and head straight downstairs and outside to take a dip in my cold plunge. After that, I’m wide awake and ready to start the rest of my morning routine before starting an early morning deep work session.

Circadian Rhythms

We all have a natural circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioural changes that follow a daily cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s environment. They are found in most living organisms, including animals, plants, and many tiny microbes.

If you stop and think about it, the sun was the only light source in our world for millions of years. Then we discovered and tamed fire. About 5000 years ago, we invented candles, which give off a small amount of light and, like fire, don’t emit blue light.

It was only about 150 years ago when we created artificial lights. Interestingly, the average amount of time spent sleeping dropped from about 10 hours before the lightbulb was invented down to 8 and then continued to fall further below as screens proliferated our lives, entertaining us late into the night.

This isn’t a coincidence; the blue light emitted from all these artificial light sources and the mental stimulation they cause inhibit melatonin production in your body, which regulates your sleep and other rhythms that your body needs to take place.

Install a Digital Sunset practice

First, make the decision that getting up and feeling awesome is better. Then, discipline yourself to shut down electronics at least an hour before bed.

I try to have a Digital Sunset at around 8:30 p.m. I wear blue-light-blocking glasses and try to stay off screens from this point. Lately, we have also been replacing our lightbulbs with intelligent LED bulbs that allow us to dim the lights and make them orangy-red to mimic the setting sun more closely.

I use the time from here until bed doing relaxing activities, connecting and playing analogue games with my family, building LEGO, reading, doing some gentle yoga and reviewing my day.

When I go to bed, I’ll spend a few more minutes reading and, as my wife informs me, I reliably fall asleep within about 10 minutes.

Technology is a tool

As a CTO, I’m always looking to use technology wisely. It is there to serve us, not the other way round. And this especially applies to our personal lives. Being distracted by social media and being a slave to advertisers isn’t helpful. Prioritise and value your sleep. The quality of your life will be improved measurably in your relationships and well-being.

According to Kelly McGonigal in The Willpower Instinct, you might be surprised to find that some activities which you expect to be relaxing are ennervators, for example, shopping, drinking, eating, playing video games, surfing the Internet, and watching TV or movies for more than two hours. Engaging in these activities a few hours before sleep is proven to have a detrimental effect.

Use technology as a tool; don’t be a tool with technology.

⚡️ Thinking Time ⚡️

Take an inventory of your evening habits, look at what’s not working and what you could do differently to optimise and improve so that you can bring your A-game every day.

Think about what helpful habits or practices you could introduce in your evenings to get better, more restful sleep.

Find some relaxing activities you enjoy that you can replace your default, less helpful habits with.

Here’s a quick list from Kelly McGonigal again of some of the scientifically proven rejuvenating activities that would be conducive to a better night’s rest:

  • praying or attending a religious service
  • reading
  • listening to music
  • spending time with friends or family
  • getting a massage
  • going outside for a walk
  • meditating
  • doing yoga
  • spending time with a creative hobby

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