Recently, I suddenly began struggling with insomnia. Looking for reasons, I discovered a surprising culprit: my newfound habit of watching my favorite shows in bed on my laptop.

Yikes! Turn out the light!

It turns out, it’s all about the light. Sleep researchers studying shift workers have long known that light is the enemy of healthy sleep. But more recently, studies have shown that the light from backlit computer screens and iPads — and to a slightly lesser extent, TV — are seriously sabotaging modern sleep habits.

The science behind this conclusion makes perfect sense. Our bodies are governed by a sleep-wake cycle that starts with our eyes. When our eyes register darkness, they send a signal to the brain to start producing melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel sleepy. When light shines in your eyes, it tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daytime. Over time, this can seriously mess up your sleep-wake cycle.
Portable screens are particularly problematic, since they’re backlit and shine directly in our eyes.  Even worse, this type of light is at the blue end of the spectrum, and blue light only occurs naturally during the day.

Here’s are the tips and tricks I learned while embarking on a campaign to banish light from my sleeping environment. The tune that kept running through my head? Simon & Garfunkle’s Sound of Silence. “Hello darkness, my old friend…”

  • Dim the lights gradually starting a couple of hours before bedtime.
  • Put away laptops, iPads, cell phones and turn off the TV at least an hour before you go to sleep.
  • Don’t have a TV in your bedroom, and banish laptops from bed.
  • Read in bed, instead. Books are great, of course, but if you prefer tech, choose a basic Kindle, which doesn’t have a backlit screen.
  • Use the smallest clip-on reading light you can get away with and direct the light onto the pages — or the device — and away from your eyes.
  • Check your bedroom for extraneous sources of light, no matter how miniscule.
  • Are there streetlights outside your windows? Use blackout curtains or shades and make sure they fit the windows tightly so no light seeps in around the edge.
  • Charge laptops, phones, cameras, and other devices in another room.
  • Banish night lights, even from the bathroom.
  • Use an alarm clock without a lighted dial, or turn it to face the wall.Need to get up during the night?
  • Keep a flashlight next to your bed and use it to go to the bathroom or let the dog out. (Point it away from yourself so you don’t look into the beam.)

Basically, for that last hour before bed, pretend you’re camping or in a pioneer cabin on the prairie. Remember how well you slept last time you were off the grid?

Be strict with yourself for a few weeks and see if your sleep improves. If you find yourself feeling more rested and relaxed, you’ll probably conclude it’s worth it to record episodes of Parenthood and The Good Wife and watch them the next day.