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Do Bright Lights Keep You Awake? Part 2

Studies have proven that bright lights can keep us awake at night. Light affects our circadian rhythm or biological clock in accordance with light and dark. Darkness also affects our pineal gland’s production of melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone that helps induce sleep. Light signals your body to produce less melatonin, causing you to stay awake longer and can even lead to self-inflicted insomnia.

The 1998 discovery of a new photoreceptor in the eye—which later turned out to be especially sensitive to blue light—revolutionized the way we think about how circadian rhythm is entrained. Today we understand that blue light has many unique physiologic effects such as: Melatonin Secretion, Body Temperature, Cortisol Secretion, Heart Rate, Alertness, Cognitive Performance, Psychomotor Performance, Brain Bloodflow, EEG Responses, Clock Gene Expression, and Circadian Regulation.  Some of these physiologic effects can even be seen in blind people. Some studies in the 1990’s showed that blind people who still had their eyes showed normal circadian rhythms, and they was able to suppress melatonin secretion and shift circadian rhythm by exposing them to bright light. While some blind individuals, particularly those whose eyes had been removed, showed abnormal, free-running circadian rhythms with attendant sleep disorders, as one would expect for the sightless.

Now, knowing how much light, especially blue light, can affect our bodies it’s not surprising that about 60% of Americans say that they experience a sleep problem every night or almost every night. Around 90% of Americans use some sort of electronics like a television, computer, video game, tablet, or cell phone at least a few nights a week within an hour before bed; and about 63% of Americans say that their sleep needs are not being met during the week. Something as simple as turning off electronics an hour before going to bed could help people get a better and longer night of sleep. But, if turning off your electronics isn’t an option, maybe f.lux will do the trick for you. F.lux software is designed to make your electronic screen look like the room you’re in. You tell f.lux what kind of lighting you have, and where you live and it automatically adjusts throughout the day for you. Most people report that f.lux makes your screen look better, but more importantly that it can help you sleep better as well.


“Annual Sleep in America Poll Exploring Connections with Communications Technology Use and Sleep.” 2011 Sleep in America Poll: Results. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 May 2014. <;.

Holzman, David C.. “What’s in a Color? The Unique Human Health Effects of Blue Light.”Environmental Health Perspectives 118: A22-A27. Print.

“UCLA Researchers Identify Brain Cells Responsible for Keeping Us Awake.”Newsroom. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 May 2014. <;.

“Harvard Gazette: When the Blues Keep You Awake.” Harvard Gazette: When the Blues Keep You Awake. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 May 2014. <;.

“F.lux.” Justgetflux. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 May 2014. <;.

What To Do With Your Old Mattress?

You’ve done your research on mattresses and found the best one to buy for you or a family member, and you are now anxiously awaiting its arrival. It’s exciting to get a new mattress, but it can become a little confusing when you’re trying to figure out what to do with the old mattress. Here are a few suggestions that will hopefully make the process of getting rid of your old mattress painless as possible.

  • If your mattress is still in usable condition be sure to check with family members and friends who might be in need of a mattress.
  • You may want to consider donating the mattress to a local homeless shelter/church.
  • A nonprofit such as the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity ReStore, or Goodwill just to name a few, are in need of donations and usually offer pickup services.
  • If you’re feeling a little crafty you can find ways to re-purpose your old mattress. A few suggestions: Outside Swinging Bench/Bed, Lounge Area, Child’s Reading Nook, Pet Bed.
  • If your mattress isn’t in the best condition, but still usable you can try contacting local Pet Rescue Centers to see if they take mattress donations to give the animals a more comfortable place to sit and sleep.
  • If your mattress isn’t in an usable condition check out Spring Back Mattress Recycling to see if they have a location near you. They create employment opportunities for disenfranchised men; and rather than discarding people and disposing of waste, Spring Back is redefining recycling.
  • You can also go to Earth911 to look up where the closest place to recycle a mattress is near you, recycling a mattress helps to reduce the number of mattresses that get dumped into landfills.

Creating a Healthy Sleep Environment

All individuals are different when it comes to what helps them fall asleep. The following aspects of the sleep environment are all important in inducing sleep and being well rested.

Bedding and Comfort

Comfort is a very important aspect to consider when preparing for bed. It is important to have a comfortable mattress, a firm pillow appropriate to your sleep position and comfortable bedding that does not heat up easily. Mattresses come in a variety of fashions such as memory foam, latex and innerspring. Mattress toppers and covers are a cheaper alternative to buying a new mattress. Some have cooling technology to help with heat regulation.  Likewise, pillows come in memory foam, latex and natural-fill such as down, feather or synthetic fiber. Bedding should also be clean, cool, and comfortably soft. 1


Keeping the room clean and uncluttered is very important when going to sleep. Having paperwork, mail, clothes or dishes everywhere can cause stress and make you too alert to fall asleep. By only using the room for sleep, you will reduce clutter and train your brain to associate the room with sleeping. Decorating with peaceful pictures or photos from an enjoyed vacation may help with relaxation and induce sleep. 1 Painting the room in peaceful colors such as shades of blue, green, or purple have also proven to help individuals relax.


In the National Sleep Foundation’s Annual American Sleep Poll in 2011, 95 percent of individuals surveyed between 13 to 63 years old reported going to sleep with the television on. 2 Sleeping with the television on can, not only, keep the brain too alert for sleep but also provide a great deal of light. Light reduces natural melatonin production in the brain, which helps to induce sleep. 2 Even hiding digital clocks may prevent clock watching because of the light output. If you need absolute dark to fall and stay asleep, you may consider buying dark curtains or drapes to block streetlights or sunlight from coming in the windows.


The ideal sleeping temperature is around 65 degrees. Sleeping in too warm or too cool environments can force the body to exert energy on sweating or shivering, keeping the body too alert for sleep. Figure out the right mixture of sleep clothes, blankets, and room temperature to make you the most comfortable at night.


If you have ever incorporated the sound of the television or the alarm clock into a dream, then you understand how noise can affect sleep. Individuals’ noise sensitivity varies. Some may enjoy ambient sound or soft music when falling asleep. Sound should be at a low level and consistent because sudden sounds can spike heart rates and cause waking. You will most likely adjust to certain noises as you cope with them over time such as city traffic or the ticking of a clock. 1

Bed Partners

In the National Sleep Foundation’s 2005 Sleep in America Poll, 38 percent of participants reported that they had problems in their relationship due to their sleep partner’s sleep disorder. 2 Even peaceful sleepers can toss and turn 50 to 60 times in one night. 1 If a snoring bed partner is a problem, elevating their head with pillows, or an adjustable bed may be helpful. Using earplugs may also help block out the sound. Another disruptive bed partner could be your pet. Pets can make noise and move all through the night (they don’t need eight hours of sleep because they sleep throughout the day). It is best to train pets to sleep in a pet bed.

Overall, adjusting your sleep environment can make major differences in your quality of sleep. These adjustments are very simple and easily managed. The sleep environment is often overlooked by troubled sleepers and can improve sleep disorder symptoms and overall well-being.


1. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.

2. National Sleep Foundation—The Sleep Environment;

Aging and Sleep

Do you ever wonder why teenagers can sleep 12 hours a day and some adults cannot sleep past 7 a.m.? This is attributed to the body’s natural sleep changes that occur as we mature and age. As we age, it is common to experience increased difficulty with sleep. This is due to many different environmental factors as well as sleep hygiene. These factors include:

Internal Factors

  • Menopause can cause nighttime heat flashes
  • Increased likelihood of disruptive sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea
  • Increased body pains due to osteoarthritis or back injury
  • Psychological factors such as anxiety, stress and depression
  • The biological clock tends to shift back in older adults causing tiredness earlier in the evening and waking up earlier 1

External Factors

  • Increased sensitivity to light and sound
  • Use of medications that can impact sleep
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Retirement and less physical activity during the day

A good indication of aging affecting sleep is experiencing more fragmented sleep and difficulty staying asleep. 1 Many older adults report feeling drowsy during the day or fatigued when they have actually received the adequate amount of sleep. This is due to restless nights and fragmented sleep. 2

The decline in stages three and four of sleep (deep sleep) and the increased stage one sleep. This is a major sign of age’s effect on sleep often beginning around age 35 to 45. 1 There has also been an observed decrease in sleep efficiency. Surprisingly, this decrease in deep sleep and sleep efficiency does not lead to sleeping longer. On average, individuals between ages 55 and 84 slept for 7 hours on weeknights and 7.1 hours on weekends. As compared to the hour difference in weeknight and weekend sleep for individuals 18 to 54. 2

Changing sleep needs due to the development of disorders and health issue can cause need for change in bed or mattress. Because sleep preferences also change as you age, ensuring that your sleep environment can compensate for your needed adjustment is very important. Purchasing a good quality adjustable mattress will allow you to adjust your bed to your changing preferences regarding mattress firmness as you age.

Overall, having good sleep hygiene and good overall health practices will help with age’s effect on sleep patterns. Many healthy adults may not experience difficulty sleeping as this difficulty is often linked to other sleep disorders or health problems. Taking into account the external and internal factors that affect sleep and sleep preferences as we age is the key to understanding what is necessary to give you the most restful night’s sleep possible.


1. Carskadon, Mary A. Encyclopedia of Sleep and Dreaming. New York: Macmillan Pub., 1993.

2. National Sleep Foundation—Aging and Sleep;

Sleep and Sickness: Tips to better rest

Why is it that when we are sick and need rest the most, it is almost impossible to get?

Sleep helps to heal the body and improve the immune system, making it a vital part in recovering from sickness. Lying down can cause more congestion to occur making breathing more difficult. Additionally, this congestion can cause the need to breathe through the mouth, resulting in worsening cough or sore throat symptoms. By adjusting the sleep environment and carefully choosing medications, it is possible to make the most out of sleeping and allow sleep to heal your body.

Adjust Sleep Environment

When sick, it is the little things that will disrupt sleep the most. Make sure your sleep environment is ideal for a good night’s sleep.

  • Comfortable bed, pillow and light blankets will make it easy to fall asleep and adjust to temperature changes during the night.
  • Keep the room dark. Even the slightest light can be irritating when sick and disrupt sleep.
  • Keep the room comfortably cool. The idea is to not cause yourself to freeze, but to keep the temperature slightly lower than normal to help induce sleep.

Choosing Medication

Not all cold and flu medications will induce sleep as imagined. All medicines work differently with different people under different circumstances.

  • Avoid medication containing pseudoephedrine. This is commonly found in decongestants and can cause some to feel jittery.2
  • Nasal spray can help with congestion without attempting to induce sleep, making sleep more natural and fulfilling.
  • Avoid liquid medication containing alcohol as it will lead to fragmented sleep.
  • If suffering from sleep apnea, all sleep medications containing alcohol should be avoided so you are able to wake yourself if an episode occurs.
  • Until you are aware of your reaction to different medications, it is best to avoid them within 6 hours of bedtime.

Sleep Tips

  • Make sure to drink at least 64 ounces of fluid a day in order to help keep the nasal and throat passages hydrated. If you drink juice with vitamin C it will offer nutritional benefit.
  • Warm non-caffeinated beverages before bed can sooth sore throats and open nasal passages, helping to not disrupt sleep. Some suggestions are decaffeinated coffee or herbal tea with honey.
  • Try not to nap throughout the day. Doing this can confuse your circadian rhythm and make it difficult to fall asleep at night.
  • Avoid taking multi-symptom cold medicines if you must use medication at all. Using a single symptom medication such as a decongestant, cough medicine or pain reliever will contain more than enough medicine to sooth symptoms.
  • Elevate the head on a wedge pillow or two regular pillows formed into a wedge to not cut of air flow, but prevent the nose from becoming clogged at night.
  • Avoid using sleeping pills when sick, especially when teamed with other cold medication. Mixing sleeping pills with medications containing alcohol is very dangerous.


1. National Sleep Foundation—Sleep May be Best Prevention for Cold, Flu;

2. WebMD—Sleep Better When You Are Sick;

Mattress Sizes

Buying a new mattress can be a confusing process that leaves you with a ton of questions. And after you have done your research and finally found the perfect mattress, you may think that you’ve got it all figured out. But, when you go to order your mattress and you see all the different sizes and dimensions that can vary by retailer, the confusion may come back. So here is a quick guide to help with choosing the right mattress size for you.

(click to enlarge)

Standard Mattress Size Chart

European mattress sizes can be even more confusing, they have more size options and are measured in centimeters. Below is a chart of European mattress sizes compared to U.S. mattress sizes.

European Mattress Sizes                                                                 United States

Centimeters                  Inches                                                           Inches

90×190                        35.4×74.8        Single                                     38×75              Twin
90×200                        35.4×78.7        Single Long                             38×80              Twin Extra Long
90×220                        35.4×86.6        Single Extra Long                     54×75              Full
140×200                      55.1×78.7        Euro Double                             60×80              Queen
140×220                      55.1×86.6        Euro Double Long                     76×80              King
160×200                      62.9×78.7        Euro King                                 72×84              California King
160×220                      62.9×86.6        Euro King Long
200×200                      78.8×78.7        Euro Super King
200×220                      78.7×86.6        Euro Super King Long

Avoiding Sleep Debt

People tend to think that once sleep is lost, it is gone forever. Many experts are saying that it is possible to catch up on sleep and is necessary to successful functioning of the mind and body. Sleep debt is sleep deprivation as it adds up and causes negative consequences such as weight gain, lack of focus, irritability, memory loss and fatigue. 1 Sleep debt does not go away on its own and can add up very quickly. Sleep requirements are different for different people; however, most individuals need between seven and nine hours of sleep to make up for 16 hours awake. 1

According to sleep expert and psychology professor Dr. James B. Maas, “You can’t repay years of sleep debt by one night of good sleep, any more than you can compensate for years of overeating by a one-day diet.” 1

Some of us can look back over the past month or year and see the sleep debt piling up. All those restless nights when you only managed to sleep for a few hours or waking up early to finish a project… We acquire sleep debt without even realizing that we have. In fact, because of the negative symptoms of being sleep deprived, the more sleep debt we have, the less our tired minds can notice how sleep deprived we have become. 2

The best way to repay sleep debt is by allowing yourself to recover from a sleepless week during the weekend. Most of us sleep late on the weekends, but we do not know exactly what we are making up for. If you miss 10 hours of sleep in a week, adding three or four hours to your weekend sleep schedule should help you recover from your debt. 2 Continuously planning on using the weekends to recover can cause you to accumulate more sleep debt and confuse your biological clock. This will also cause chronic sleep debt, which will only make it more difficult to return to sleep homeostasis. 3

If needing to repay a large sleep debt, it is suggested to take a relaxed vacation with very little activity planned and take the time to catch up on sleep and wake up naturally. 2 The most important thing is to avoid accumulating more sleep debt. By continuously allowing yourself to sleep as much as your body needs to, you will be preventing sleep deprivation and the harmful symptoms that come along with lack of sleep.


1. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.

2. Harvard Medical School—Repaying Sleep Debt;

3. WebMD—Sleep Debt Hard to Repay;

Lucid Dreaming-Can You Control Your Dreams? Part Two

Lucid dreamers make some pretty remarkable claims and we are only going to list a few for you today, but if you have had lucid dreams please share them in the comment section.

One woman began lucid dreaming in high school and used lucid dreams as a way to problem solve from everyday issues to school work. She continued this practice through medical school and even as a surgeon today who is able to complete a surgery more accurately and on average 40% quicker than her peers. Another person reports that he used lucid dreaming to perfect his defense skills as a black belt and was able to earn his instructing certification in less than a year. Many reports often come from children, one in particular that could recall lucid dreams from the age of five, the dream consisted of flying around the world in a rocket ship made out of a garbage can. The bottom of the garbage can was glass so that he could see everything below while flying and when it was time to land he was aware that he didn’t have proper landing gear, so he just simply said time to wake up right before impact.

Lucid dreaming is even being used as a therapy to help people overcome their fears and nightmares. The idea is that if you know that you are dreaming then the next logical step is to realize nothing in that dream can physically hurt you. No matter how scary a nightmare may be, if you are able to realize that it is just a dream than you should be able to conquer that fear. Many people have reported that after facing their fears or monsters in their nightmares through lucid dreaming that they transform into friendly creatures and even friends.

Even more recently new technology is allowing more possibilities than we thought possible, such as Daniel Oldis, a software engineer who has invented an EEG headband called the Zeo. The Zeo consists of a little red light bulb, internet connection, and programmed to connect with other users for what he calls “social dreaming”. This works by connecting two people in different locations in the world that are wearing the Zeo headband to bed, and it begins to collect brainwave data that it sends to a computer. When Zeo detects that both people have entered into REM sleep the light turns on and cues the sleepers to incorporate the light into their dream, hopefully without waking them, in an attempt that they realize that they’re in a dream and from there they can try to join in each others dreams.

LaBerge, S.. N.p.. Web. 22 Nov 2013. < Institute Research Papers.pdf?>

LaBerge, S., and L. Levitan. N.p.. Web. 22 Nov 2013. <;.

Parmy Olson, . N.p.. Web. 22 Nov 2013. <;

Lucid Dreaming-Can You Control Your Dreams? Part One

Lucid dreaming is when a person has a dream that typically happens during the REM stage of the sleep cycle in which a person is aware that they are dreaming, and then is able to control what happens within the dream. For some people lucid dreaming comes natural and has even been reported to start in children as early as five years of age. But, for others it proves to be much more difficult; taking hours of research and years of practice. Some people are able to learn how to lucid dream, but have to have a lot of practice staying in the lucid state after realizing that they are in a dream and can control what happens, this can cause to much excitement causing them to snap out of the dream. People who get the hang of how to lucid dream can continue to have them as they wish, while others only have lucid dreams for a couple of weeks, months, years. There isn’t an exact science on how to lucid dream, but there is a substantial amount of research being done to learn more.

Lucid dreaming is understood to have been happening since the existence of people, one of the earliest accounts we have is from Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). Who was one of the first writers to try to study the mind and dreams in a systematic way, and then in 1913 Frederik Van Eeden coined the term “lucid”.  Scientist have had a hard time trying to wrap their head’s around the idea of lucid dreaming, and they eventually accepted that being aware and awake are two different concepts. The studying has continued throughout the years and now we can find hundreds of articles and scientific studies on the subject of lucid dreaming.  When looking online it’s easy to find this information, from how to lucid dream in 15 steps on wikiHow, or watching YouTube videos to help take you into a lucid dreaming state, and even joining The Lucidity Institute’s mailing list. While we have all of this information and these scientific studies the statistics aren’t clear on how many people have lucid dreams, though most people report having had a lucid dream at least once in their lives, and only around 20% of the population reports having lucid dreams once a month or more.

LaBerge, Stephen, and Howard Rheingold. Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming. New York: Ballantine, 1990. Print.

LaBerge, S.. N.p.. Web. 22 Nov 2013. < Institute Research Papers.pdf

Hurd, Ryan. N.p.. Web. 22 Nov 2013. <;.

LaBerge, S., and L. Levitan. N.p.. Web. 22 Nov 2013. <;.

Crisp, Tony. N.p.. Web. 22 Nov 2013. <;.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

When the majority of people enter into REM sleep they begin to dream, and during this time the body becomes paralyzed (sleep paralysis typically happens during this time when your brain becomes alert, but your body doesn’t). People with REM Behavior Disorder (RBD) aren’t always paralyzed during the REM portion of sleep and are able to act out dreams and/or nightmares, often causing harm to themselves and others.

The first time RBD was diagnosed was in 1985 by Dr. Mark Mahowald and Dr. Carlos Schenck at the University of Minnesota. They also found that more than 90% of RBD patients are male and the disorder doesn’t strike until after the age of 50, although kids have been diagnosed as early as the age of 9. They also go on to say that most RBD patients are calm, easy-going, and good-natured when awake, here are a few case histories documented by Drs. Mahowald and Schenck.

  • A 77-year old minister had been behaving violently in his sleep for 20 years, sometimes even injuring his wife.
  • A 60-year old surgeon would jump out of bed during nightmares of being attacked by “criminals, terrorists and monsters.”
  • A 62-year old industrial plant manager who was a war veteran dreamt of being attacked by enemy soldiers and fights back in his sleep, sometimes injuring himself.
  • A 57-year old retired school principal was inadvertently punching and kicking his wife for two years during vivid nightmares of protecting himself and family from aggressive people and snakes.

RBD can easily be confused with a number of parasomnias, this is why patients should be observed over night in a sleep center. A single night of monitoring almost always reveals a lack of muscle paralysis during REM sleep that leads to a diagnoses of RBD. After a diagnosis has been confirmed a treatment can begin, most commonly Clonazepam is prescribed, a benzodiazepine that can reduce or eliminate the disorder about 90% of the time.

Drs. Mahowald and Schenck made a startling discovery while conducting research on RBD; they found that 38% of 29 otherwise healthy patients with RBD went on to develop a parkinsonian disorder. “We don’t know why RBD and PD are linked,” says Dr. Mahowald, “but there is an obvious relationship, as about 40% of individuals who present with RBD without any signs or symptoms of PD will eventually go on to develop PD.” Other research has also shown a connection between RBD and neurodegenerative diseases related to Parkinson’s.

If you have any concerns about RBD you should consult with your doctor or find a sleep specialist in your area.


2. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.

The Sleep Foundation—REM Behavior Disorder and Sleep
Web. 01 Jan. 2014. <;.