How to sleep in a digital world

Published in: Productivity

It’s bad enough that I am a light sleeper. A small noise or a change in temperature can often wake me up and it can be very difficult for me to go back to sleep. I know some people who can just lie on the bed and easily fall asleep in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, I am not one of them.

I actually don’t like to sleep. If I had my way, I would rather not sleep at all. But it’s not something that I get to vote on, not having enough sleep can directly affect not only my health (which is very important) but also my productivity and performance that I am trying to improve by not sleeping enough in the first place. I have falsely convinced myself during my teenage years that I am more productive when I work at night. I would start my “work day” at around 8PM and work all night and then go to sleep 5-6AM in the morning. I would Wake up at around 12-1PM to take care of things that I can only do during the day. Usually, it’s not enough time and I am almost always rushing around trying to get things done that I can only do during the day. I have missed and have been late to countless meetings, get-togethers, and family events, just so I could squeeze some extra bit productivity by working at night.

I have done this, on and off, for at least five years. I was always cranky, groggy and tired; caffeine stopped working on me even at high dosage. I started to change my sleeping habits once I started to actually quantify my productivity, by counting the actual hours spent when I am working on the computer at night. It was nowhere close to the amount of productive hour I thought I was putting in and certainly not worth the effort considering how not sleeping at night was negatively affecting all other aspects of my life. There was no reason that I couldn’t be just as productive, by working during the day. If anything, I should be more productive. I realized that being more productive had less to do with the time of the day I am working and more to do with the actual amount of effort I was consciously putting in to get things done.

Once I have convinced myself that it’s important for me to get enough sleep and at the right time, I slowly worked out plans and rules I have set for myself to help my transition from a night person to a day person. It wasn’t easy, it took some refining over the years but it helped me be a happier and more productive person.



Melatonin is an important hormone that helps control your sleep cycles naturally (among other things). In a normal human being melatonin levels are low during the day and slowly peaks at night when there is no day light. Any external source of light, especially short-wavelength blue light has a greater effect on melatonin level, which obviously affects your ability to fall asleep when you are glued into your computer screen and phones at night before going to bed. But thankfully there is an app for that. Apps like f.lux can control the amount of blue light emitting from your computer screen at night. There are many similar apps, for phones and computers, with many degrees of flexibility and options so do your research. On Android I use Twilight, on IOS, recent OS update have this feature built in to the OS, called Night Shift.

It is important to note that melatonin levels can be suppressed (at a lower level) even in normal lights that don’t emit short-wavelength blue light. So even though the above-mentioned apps will help you somewhat it doesn’t give you license to spend long hours in front of your computers and phones and still expect to fall asleep naturally. You should still get away from your computer, phones and TV at least 1-2 hours before going to bed. I personally make only one exception. I take my Kindle Paperwhite to bed. I know it has LED light, but it’s not backlit so it doesn’t directly target your eyes like your phone and on lower light settings it’s not so bad. I make this exception with kindle because reading books greatly increase my chances of me falling asleep quickly. It’s a tradeoff I am willing to make.



There is over-the-counter melatonin supplement that you can take for those days when you had to work a bit late into the night or it was just too hard to fall asleep for no obvious reasons. It works like a charm almost every time. Melatonin supplement is not a sleeping pill but a sleeping aid, so you don’t get the groggy feeling with other side effects you get from a sleeping pill. But it doesn’t give you a license to spend time on your computer or phone because supplement or not, staring at your phone will still affect your melatonin level.

On the flip side, I take Modafinil first thing in the morning after a bad night’s sleep and I know taking coffee won’t just do it for me and I need something stronger. Quoting from Wikipedia: “Modafinil is a wakefulness-promoting agent used for the treatment of disorders such as narcolepsy, shift work sleep disorder, and excessive daytime sleepiness associated with obstructive sleep apnea.” If works like a charm without any crash you get from caffeine. I don’t take it everyday and when I do I try to take it really early in the morning or not at all. It tends to work for long hours and mess up your sleep schedule if you take it too late into the day. Modafinil is not an over-the-counter drug you will need a prescription. Last I checked, it can be very expensive in the USA.

Do your own research and talk to your doctor before considering Modafinil or Melatonin. Just because they work for me, doesn’t mean it will also work for you and you won’t have any side effects.


Because of my work (ISP), I am always on call. But I am really up the ladder for emergency calls. According to protocol, a whole lot of support personnel and senior engineers will be called and something serious needs to happen before someone calls me up in the middle of the night. But I made sure no one is afraid to call me even if they are a little bit of concern that I need to be notified about an incident. About 95% of the employee of the company has my personal number. This is why I can’t mute or turn off my phone before I go to sleep, like some other people I know.

I do turn off my notifications and keep the phone at a distance from my bed. Far enough that I need to get up from bed to fetch it but not far enough that I won’t hear the alarm clock. It’s important that you don’t take your phone to the bed with you.

How much time should you sleep?

I have seen a lot of different numbers thrown around with eight hours being the most popular number of hours an adult should sleep at night. It’s hard for me to count number and stick to it because most often I can’t control the amount of time I will spend in bed or when I am going to fall asleep. What I can do is create the conditions that will help me fall asleep at night preferably sometime around 9-10PM. I do set my alarm clock at exactly the same time on most days, so I know when I am waking up. From my own experience, I have seen that if I sleep at night for at least 5-6 hours I feel refreshed enough when I wake up. But I can sleep 10 hours during the day and still feel like crap. I am guessing its more important when you sleep, than the actual hours you spend sleeping.

In today’s hyper-connected, always-on world, especially when your livelihood depends on spending a lot of time in front of the computer or your phone, it pays off to impose some rules and limits on yourself for a healthier life.

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