Two simple things

A couple of years back, I made two really minor changes that improved my quality of life in a major way.

For most of my life, I've had trouble falling asleep. Once I do fall asleep, I usually sleep well, but for whatever reason, my brain has trouble shutting itself down at night so that I can drift off to sleep. This seemed to be getting worse as I got older, until I stumbled onto two things.

The first came when we were in the US to visit my family. We had gone to the beach with them for a week in Delaware, then driven down to my aunt's house in Vienna (Virginia, not Austria) to spend the night and catch our flight the following afternoon. My best friend from childhood, Adam, just so happened to be off that day, and drove up from Richmond so he could hang out with us for a few hours before we had to go to the airport.

Adam is a social worker who specialises in addiction, and he was talking about how many of his clients who manage to get clean tend to smoke and drink a lot of coffee. One particular client always grabbed a cup of coffee on the way into see Adam, and then ducked out to refill his cup halfway through the appointment. His appointments were usually in mid-afternoon, and one day, he was telling Adam about how poor his sleep quality was. Adam suggested that he lay off coffee after lunch, but the client insisted that coffee didn't have any effect on him because he was so used to it, and he could fall asleep easily no matter how many cups he had, it was just that he always woke up in the middle of the night and tossed and turned. Adam didn't press the point with the client, but he told me that caffeine affects us all, despite how much tolerance we think we have.

At this point, I drank about five or six cups of coffee a day: two cups of black drip coffee with my breakfast at home, two lattes before lunch at work (we had machines there that made a decent latte, and one of them even had oat milk!), and another one or two after lunch. When we got back to Sweden, I kept thinking about what Adam had said, and I decided to stop drinking coffee after lunch. The improvement was almost instantaneous; I got to sleep much faster and actually found that I was less tired in the morning.

It wasn't a panacea, of course. I still had those nights where my brain wouldn't stop coming up with interesting ideas when I was trying to fall asleep. Luckily, my second discovery wasn't far off, and this one was born of pure serendipity.

Everyone in my family has iPhones, and we all have chargers on our bedside tables, and I have an additional one in my office room (also known as the guest bedroom). One day, my son's charger stopped working, and it turned out to be because the cable had just worn out. Since I had a charger in the office, I gave him the cable from my bedside table and just started plugging my phone in to charge in the office room instead.

This made a big difference. I always try to read in bed before falling asleep, but when my phone was there, I'd often notice that I had a notification on Twitter, or my friend Justin would send me a link to some dodgy Arsenal transfer rumour on WhatsApp, or I'd wonder if there was a new xkcd or whatever, so I'd put my bookmark in "just for a second" and grab my phone to check things out. When I moved my phone in the other room, even if I was curious about xkcd or wanted to check my schedule for tomorrow or whatever, it was such a pain to get out of my comfy bed and walk to the other room that I just said to myself, "meh, I'll check in the morning," and went back to my book.

It turns out that there are two properties of smartphones that aren't great for sleep. The first one is blue light, which suppresses the body's secretion of melatonin, which is a hormone that is normally produced at night and tells our body that it's sleepytime. The second is social media, which seems to have some correlation with decreased quality of sleep.

So without knowing I was doing it, I removed a major sleep impedient from my life just because an iPhone charger cable stopped charging. Thanks, Apple!

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Published: 2022-07-02

Tagged: waffle