I’m writing this a little after three in the morning. That may seem early, but it depends on one’s routine and how awake one feels. In a little while I’ll be outside for my daily walk of a few miles. Morning people don’t mind this, but for night owls it’s torture. It’s hard to stay awake at any hour outside daily rhythms.
This happens when techs are on call, too. Fighting drowsiness dulls the mind and senses. I don’t know how many times I’ve been called in the middle of the night to forget what I was doing between the centrifuge and the bench.
The other day I came across a computer utility called f.lux that offers intriguing insight into staying awake. It adjusts your computer monitor’s display temperature according to your geographical coordinates and time of day to best suit your rhythms. It’s available for Windows, OS X, Linux, iPhone, and soon Android systems.
The idea is based on research suggesting that blue light (460 - 480 nm) present in higher temperature light sources prevents you from feeling sleepy by suppressing production of melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Computer monitors can be adjusted to several temperatures; their default is 6500 K (light sources are measured in degrees Kelvin), which contains blue light.
Staring at a computer monitor late at night or early morning is like looking at the sun, in other words. It keeps you awake.
Normal room lights work, too. One study concludes, “that room light exerts a profound suppressive effect on melatonin levels and shortens the body's internal representation of night duration. Hence, chronically exposing oneself to electrical lighting in the late evening disrupts melatonin signaling and could therefore potentially impact sleep, thermoregulation, blood pressure, and glucose homeostasis.” Exposure to room light before bedtime shortened melatonin duration by 90 minutes in 99% of the subjects.
f.lux neatly adjusts your monitor color temperature, letting you sleep naturally. It’s a good idea for home but not for the laboratory. We need all the help we can get.
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