Time to switch off...
At this time of year we tend to have electric lights on by teatime at the latest, and this may be an underlying cause of insomnia. They may look white, but in fact lightbulbs (especially energy-efficient ones) and electronic equipment such as computers, TVs, tablets and even digital clocks emit blue light. During the day blue light peps us up and boosts our mood, but at night blue wavelengths disrupt our body’s biological clock, suppressing production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Not getting enough sleep is considered a risk factor for depression, as well as diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
Research into strategies to combat the problem is ongoing, but here are some ideas:
• Download the free f.lux software (from www.justgetflux.com), which gradually warms the wavelengths on your computer screen as natural light fades – but generally avoid working on screens for two to three hours before bed.
• Try amber lenses, which are claimed to block virtually all the blue light that bombards your eyes, even from normal room lighting. There is a selection of glasses on www.amazon.co.uk at different prices, and Vision Express offers prescription glasses with the latest advance in blue control technology.
• Turn off any electronic appliances with standby lights in your bedroom.
• Use red-coated bulbs in your bedroom – red light has the least power to suppress melatonin, according to Harvard Medical School.
• If you get up in the night, avoid turning on the light; use pink or red-coated night lights instead.
• Expose yourself to lots of bright light during the day, which will help you sleep at night.
WHY YOUR BODY IS BRILLIANT
For an educational, entertaining children’s book, try Operation Ouch! Your Brilliant Body (Little, Brown Young Readers, £8.99*) by twins Dr Chris and Dr Xand van Tulleken, presenters of the CBBC series of the same name.
Our testers Clara, ten, and Marcus, six, were both engrossed by this engaging read (also available as an ebook, £4.49, from www.amazon.co.uk), complete with quizzes, cool body tricks and ‘gross-out’ knowledge boxes. Here are some of Clara’s favourite fantastic facts:
• If your digestive system was stretched out, it would be the height of a three-storey building.
• Your liver is the largest organ inside your body (your skin is the biggest of all) and it performs over 500 functions, including removing poisons from your blood, storing sugar, fats, copper, vitamins and iron, regulating cholesterol and getting rid of old red blood cells.
• Each foot has over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments.
• Everything about you, from the colour of your skin to the curliness of your hair, is determined by a set of instructions inside your body called genes. The information is written on tiny strands called DNA , arranged in a shape that looks like a twisty ladder. If you could unravel all your body’s DNA , it would reach the moon 6,000 times.
• Adults have about five litres of blood in their bodies, made up of three main types of cells. Red blood cells give the fluid its colour, and take oxygen from the lungs, carrying it around the body. White cells fight disease and help remove waste. Platelets help blood to clot.
• Your voice is created by a combination of your larynx, mouth, nose and throat. Everyone’s voice is unique. So is the pattern of your iris: that’s why irises are sometimes scanned at airports to check people’s identity. It’s ‘a bit like fingerprinting, except it makes you feel like you’re in a cool sci-fi movie,’ explain the van Tullekens. • You shed about 30,000 skin cells every day.
• Your eyes work upside down. Images appear on the retina the wrong way up, and your brain swaps them over.
• Your nails are made of keratin, the same substance as your pet’s claws (and your hair).
My pre-Christmas shop includes my favourite tummy-settling organic teas, Pukka Herbs Three Ginger, Three Mint and Three Fennel (each £2.29 for 20 bags, from www.pukkaherbs.com).