The numbers of people with problems sleeping is increasing. Indeed, according to recent research one-in-three of us no longer have a proper night of sleep, with millions of people now “managing” on just five hours per night. Doctors are seeing increasing numbers of individuals with sleep disturbances too. So the nagging question which the experts want to answers is “why are sleep problems increasing”?
Our modern, very busy lifestyle is thought to be responsible. In fact, the world does not “switch off” – 24 hour TV and the constant updating of the Internet mean that life is “on the go” the whole time. That makes some of us think we might miss something if we sleep. It also means that there is no standard “bed time”. Years ago, TV “went to bed”, finishing late at night with “the epilogue” and then “close down”. You were forced to go to be because there was nothing to watch. Even radio stopped, to let us get some rest. But for decades now we have been able to have the radio on all night and watch TV if we wanted.
Now, with on-demand video technologies we can even “go to the movies” at 3am if we want. And if you run out of milk or bread at 4am, goodness me that’s not an issue either because you can nip out to a whole array of 24 hour shops. Whatever you want throughout the night, you can get it.
Added to this, we are surrounded by more light than ever before. Our brains prepare us for sleep and produce the hormones necessary for a good night’s rest by monitoring the amount of light around us. As things get darker, our brains kick in the sleep arrangements necessary. But as you sit facing your computer late at night, your brain still thinks it has plenty of daylight because the screen is pouring light into your eyes. As a result our brains are fooled into believing it isn’t time yet to go to sleep.
Experts also believe our attitudes are important and chief amongst these is the way we think about email. Checking emails just before you go to bed is one of the principal reasons why we suffer sleep disturbances. Also, if you look at Facebook or Twitter late at night, that too can cause difficulties.
When you look at your messages just before going to bed a few things happen. Firstly, you activate your mind to make it start thinking again – when actually what you need for a good sleep is a rested mind. But you also trigger subconscious activity which prevents you from sleeping – such as reactions to negative emails. If, for instance, you get an email late at night making some kind of complaint or comment about your work, what can you do about it anyway? So, what was the purpose of reading it? Such emails could wait until the next working day.
It is not necessary to check your emails constantly and to be “always available”. Research shows that for large companies most consumers expect a reply to their emails within an hour or two during the working day. But in general terms, most of us are happy if we get a reply within 24 hours. So if someone emails you late at night they are not expecting a reply from you until the next day anyway. Hence there is no need to read it.
So how can you manage email and stop it from contributing to loss of sleep?
Get an empty inbox
The first step is to have an email “strategy”. Largely this means switching OFF the automatic checking of emails by your software. Instead, have regular times of the day when you log in and deal with your emails then – and only then. Many people find that first thing in the morning and then late in the afternoon is perfectly adequate. Indeed, there are some highly successful people who check emails once a day – and that is all. If something comes in after that, it has to wait until the following morning. Having an email checking routine is going to help you sleep much better than an “always on” email program.
Also, use your email program to categorise emails so that you know what to do. For instance, you can have “folders” labelled “Today” and “Later”. When you check your emails, any that need a reply today can be transferred to that folder. Anything else which is less time-dependent can be put in the “Later” folder for you to deal with when you get a spare few moments. Each time you log in to your email you will face less of a sense of pressure to deal with things.
Ultimately you should aim for an EMPTY INBOX. As emails come in you make a decision what to do with them – most can be trashed straight away and the others either need dealing with “today” or “later”. Move them into the relevant folders and then spend your time on the “today” folder. When you check your emails last thing in the afternoon, handle the last few emails in the “today” box and you then can retire for the evening safe in the knowledge you have done everything you needed to. Sleep will be easy.
- Large U.S. Survey Finds Regional Differences in Sleep Quality (socialpsychology.org)
- Fragmented Sleep, Fragmented Mind: A New Theory of Sleep Disruption (socialpsychology.org)
- National Day of Unplugging Wants You to Power Down for 24 Hours (mashable.com)
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+