| Insomnia, Sleep Health

How does Insomnia affect Veterans.

Insomnia is a special concern for veterans, who have an increased incidence of trouble with falling asleep or staying asleep.  These sleep problems frequently occur in association with PTSD but can also occur even when PTSD is not present.  Adding insult to injury, insomnia can cause social conflict since its consequences are often poorly appreciated by friends, family and coworkers.  Even some medical professionals don’t understand just how debilitating chronic insomnia can be and are therefore dismissive of patients who sleep poorly.  

Treatment For Insomnia. 

Unfortunately, treatment for insomnia is often ineffective.  Recent research, though, has shown promise.  One area of special note involves circadian rhythms, the waxing and waning of bodily functions that normally run in 24-hour cycles.  Disruption of these cycles can cause or contribute to insomnia.  Vital to maintaining circadian rhythms are the hormones that control virtually all biological activity.  At the center of control for circadian rhythms is the hormone melatonin.

Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland, located just beneath the base of the brain.  Under normal circumstances, melatonin levels are low during the daytime hours and increased at night time.  Melatonin release into the bloodstream is largely regulated by exposure to light.  Blue light, in particular, suppresses melatonin and keeps levels low.  Most important, exposure to blue light in the period right before bedtime reduces the normal, nighttime surge.  With less melatonin, sleep tends to be disturbed.  Cutting down on blue light during the hours right before bedtime allows for increased melatonin and better sleep.  It is therefore important that exposure to blue light be minimized during this critical time of day.

What is Blue Light?

So, how to reduce exposure to blue light?  Avoiding the use of electronic devices in an hour or so before bedtime is best though not always practical.  Fortunately, if you must use your computer or other devices in the evening help is still available.  Newer computer operating systems have dedicated software able to reduce the amount of blue light emitted by your computer screen.  Directions to activate these programs are generally simple.  For older computers, several companies offer software to download with the same functionality.  

But sophisticated software is not the only help available.  Low-tech options will also work. These include blue light filters that fit over your computer screen.  Many people report good results with these filters although increased glare can be a problem.  Eyeglasses that incorporate blue light filters are a readily available, inexpensive and useful alternative.  And even without any of these measures, simply lowering the intensity of light on your computer screen or smartphone will be of benefit.

Reducing blue light exposure is not generally a cure for insomnia.  But in conjunction with other techniques, it can assist sufferers to fall asleep more quickly, stay asleep during the night, and feel better during the day.  And since there is little or no cost to reduce one’s exposure to blue light, it is almost always worth a try. 

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