Daily Digital Life and Brain Health: Finding a Healthy Balance

Digital devices, television screens, computer screens, tablets, laptops, cell phones, LED screens… Most of us spend more time staring at a digital screen than we realize. In fact, studies suggest that 60% of people spend more than 6 hours a day staring at some kind of digital device.

“It’s not actually the device that is the problem,” explains Leanne O’Neil, Owner of INDY Neurofeedback, “it’s the artificial blue light coming from the device.” Blue light is one of the shortest, highest-energy wavelengths (the shorter the wavelength; the higher the energy.) Because they are shorter, these blue or High Energy Visible (HEV) wavelengths flicker more easily than longer, weaker wavelengths. This kind of flickering creates a glare that can reduce visual contrast and affect sharpness and clarity.

This flickering and glaring may be one reason for the eyestrain, headaches, physical and mental fatigue caused by many hours sitting in front of a computer screen or other electronic device.

Studies suggest that, over time, exposure to the higher energy of blue light may cause serious long-term damage to your eyes — and your brain.

Harmful effects include:

  • Disruptions of the natural circadian rhythm and sleep
  • Blurry vision, difficulty focusing, dry and irritated eyes, headaches, and age-related macular degeneration
  • Greater risk of certain cancers
  • Increased risk of depression

There’s growing medical evidence that blue light exposure may cause permanent eye damage, contribute to the destruction of the cells in the center of the retina, and play a role in causing age-related macular degeneration, which can lead to vision loss. It also negatively affects the brain.

What happens to your brain on blue light? Researchers have suggested that there is a specific neural pathway from the eyes to the brain—separate from how vision is transmitted—that ultimately causes blue light wavelengths to worsen headache pain and other symptoms. Overexposure to blue light can lead to intense headaches, a greater perception of pain and throbbing and even enhanced spreading of headache pain across the brain. Intense headaches can also include aura symptoms, photophobia and light sensitivity, dizziness/nausea, and more.

What can you do to protect yourself? Here are some ways that you can minimize the damaging effects of blue light:

  • Try “blue blocker” (blue-light) filtering glasses.
  • Warm the light settings on your devices by switching to “night mode” to make it easier on your eyes.
  • Turn your phone or computer off at least 2-3 hours before you go to bed.
  • Change your light bulbs to warmer tones and colors. Opt for more natural light if possible and avoid/remove fluorescents, if appropriate.
  • Give your eyes a break.Look away from your screen at least once every 20 minutes to let your eyes reset.

At INDY Neurofeedback, we know that keeping your brain in peak condition requires attention to diet, exercise, sleep, and yes – even what your eyes do during your waking hours. Here’s to your overall health!

What your brain does while you sleep

Scientists and our INDY Neurofeedback team know that our brains do an amazing amount of important work while we sleep. We also know that sleeping is an integral part of our life.

However, a thorough understanding of sleep as it pertains to our overall health is still not entirely known, largely because its functions are incredibly complex.

Here’s what we do know about the function of sleep, according to Scientific American magazine:

  • Sleep reenergizes the body’s cells
  • Clears waste from the brain
  • Supports learning and memory
  • Regulates mood, appetite and even the libido

As we fall asleep, our brains don’t shut down. Instead, they prepare to generate sleep in two distinct stages. The first phase, SWS, is slow-wave sleep.

“Most of our sleep is SWS,” says Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback. “SWS shows up on our brain scans as large, slow brain waves. This makes sense, as a sleeping body is relaxed. Breathing is slow and rhythmic. This probably helps our brain and body to recover after all we process during our busy days.”

After the SWS stage, the brain activates REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. The purpose of REM sleep remains a puzzle, despite our growing understanding of its biochemistry and neurobiology.

“Through brain scans,” continues O’Neil, “we know that a dreamer’s brain is highly active, while in contrast, our body’s muscles are paralyzed. (This is why we feel we cannot move away from perceived danger when we have a nightmare.) Our body’s breathing and heart rate are often erratic, too.”

Scientists and neurofeedback specialists now know that a small group of cells in the brain stem controls REM sleep. Interestingly, when these cells become injured or diseased, dreamers often don’t experience REM muscle paralysis, which can lead to a serious REM sleep behavior disorder where individuals sleepwalk or act out their dreams, often violently.

Understanding the complex relationship between sleep and the brain is fascinating, especially to us at INDY Neurofeedback. That’s precisely why we do the work we do – helping our clients optimize their brain function to improve their overall health.

 

– the INDY Neurofeedback team