Apple wants to help us sleep better.

An update just came out for our iPhones that includes a feature called Night Shift, which can reduce the cool, blue light from our phones and make the screen warmer, and more red-orange tinted.

How does my iPhone or iPad affect my sleep?

There's a lot of research on how blue light impacts our ability to fall sleep. The initial discovery of blue light impact was during research on bird migration, but then 15 years ago scientists discovered a new photoreceptor in our eyes (besides the rods and cones most of us have heard about) called Melanopsin. Research demonstrated that the average person reading on a tablet or phone for a couple hours before bed would find their ability to sleep delayed by about an hour.

I played with Night Shift last night before bed, testing different levels of warmth. My goal was to be mindful and sensitive: What was I feeling? At first it feels a little strange, but after a few minutes the medium setting feels natural. This was my same experience using f.lux on my Mac which it first came out. 

From left to right: No Night Shift, Medium (default) Night Shift, and maximum Night Shift

The trouble with Night Shift is that it doesn't really solve the problem of sleeplessness. It just slightly mitigates it. I noticed my near-constant desire to crank the screen color back to normal in the same manner in which I find myself wanting to crank the brightness up to maximum. If I'm reading email, I want to be 100% on.  If I'm watching a movie, I don't want to do it through rose-colored glasses.

Night Shift will make a difference, but it's not a solution

Still, I think it's great Apple implemented Night Shift. Apple is the best example of a mission-driven, purpose-oriented company, and the impact they can have on health and wellness with the iOS platform is unprecedented. But the bright screens that we look at all day are a price we pay for access to that platform. I can't help but think of Luis Von Ahn who created Captchas, those little codes we enter with numbers and letters on web sites to prove we're human. When Luis Von Ahn calculated that people were losing 500,000 hours per day entering some 2 millions captchas (an activity everyone hates), he got depressed and wanted to do something about it. So he created reCaptcha, so at least all the human hours spent reading letters and numbers could go to something useful: Book digitization. With over 100 million iPhone users in the US alone, the amount of lost sleep per night eclipses most wastes of time.

What does it look like?  Screen shots can't help you compare, because Night Shift doesn't actually change the color data, it just changes the light put out by the iPhone. I took photos of my home screen this morning without artificial light, using my Canon 7D Mark II with an EF 100mm 2.8 IS macro lens (click the picture to enlarge):

If Night Shift even has a 5% impact (it will probably be more) on the 100 million users in the US alone, and even more globally, then that's definitely a good thing.

Apple's Night Shift is a good start, and helpful if you have to be on your device. I'll use it the same was I use Sleep Cycle (link to App store). If I have no choice but to sleep 5-6 hours and I have to get up, I'd rather use Sleep Cycle to detect the best time to wake me that will have the least negative impact on my day.

How to stop tech from making you tired

Instead of shifting, I recommend stepping on the brakes. Take a break from tech. If you want really good sleep, which means both quality and quantity, I recommend some basics that are proven to help you get good sleep:

  • Ignore and don't use devices and electronics during the hours leading up to bedtime. No computer, no phone, no iPad, no TV. There's proven research that shows that the biggest issue affecting sleep isn't blue light, it's cognitive stimulus. Just using a device or watching a video can make sleeping more difficult, and reduce the quality of sleep.
  • Sleep in a pitch-black dar room, with unnatural light sources removed.
  • Schedule to get 8-9 hours of sleep. Some people feel 7 is the right number, others 8. I know from practical experience that at least 8 hours of quality sleep can drastically change your outlook throughout the day, your performance all day long, and even help you accelerate fitness goals.

Finally, I recommend you read Michael Hyatt's 6 Strategies to Sleep Soundly, Wake Rested, and Accomplish More. Especially focus in on points 5 & 6.  It's good advice and it works. 

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