Using a computer screen in the evening could disrupt your sleep

For reasons that I can’t understand, some people refuse to believe that there is any connection between the light that hits our eyes and our moods and sleeping patterns. If you are one of those people then you may not get much from this blog. For the rest of us, there is a free piece of software called f.lux that might help.

f-lux-logoI discovered this software on a friend’s computer and decided to give it a go as I do often use a computer late into the evening and I do go through periods of not sleeping very deeply. Since it only takes two minutes to install the software I thought I’d try it. It’s been running on my main laptop for a couple of months now. I can’t prove that it’s actually helping me to sleep, but I can definitely say that it’s easier on the eyes when using the laptop in the evening (when the ambient light is much lower than during the day) and, coincidentally or not, I am going through a period of sleeping reasonably well.

The theory is that computer screens emit a light in a narrow waveband of blue that affects the production of a photopigment in the eyes called Melanopsin. Melanopsin is thought to be involved in the regulation of circadian rhythms. Using a computer in the evening might delay the onset of sleep by an hour or two and might affect the quality of the sleep. I’ve also found mention on a Wikipedia page that melanopsin may be implicated in the onset of migraine.

By the way, I often give links to Wikipedia pages in these blogs. The reason is fairly obvious – Wikipedia pages come to the top of Google search pages. I agree that we should always be wary of trusting what we read on Wikipedia, but they do provide a starting point and a springboard for further research if one feels inclined to pursue a topic. If you’d like a more authoritative starting-point for looking at the effect that LCD computer screens have, then check this link from the US Institutes of Health entitled “Evening exposure to a light-emitting diodes (LED)-backlit computer screen affects circadian physiology and cognitive performance“.

f-lux menu

The main options in f-lux

So, after installing f-lux, go into “Settings” to tell it your location (postcode) and it will then know when sunrise and sunset occur for you. During daylight hours your screen will look exactly the same as it does at the moment, but at night the screen will not emit most of the blue light that is associated with melanopsin. You can choose to have the software abruptly change the light that is displayed on your screen as it gets darker or lighter, or you can set it to gradually change over a 60 minute period. You can also choose just how much of the light spectrum is suppressed. There are times when you need to have your display showing normal, full-spectrum, colours (such as when editing photographs). The taskbar icon includes an option to turn off f-lux for a 60 minute period to cater for these situations. There is also an option to turn f-lux off for the remainder of the current night.

F-lux lighting levels

The lighting levels available on a PC.

I would recommend giving the software a trial of at least a few days. Initially, I kept finding that as the screen grew darker at around sunset I had an urge to turn it back up to normal. After a while, though, I got used to it to such an extent that the screen now seems to be painfully bright if I turn f-lux off for any reason during the hours of darkness.

F-lux is available for PCs, Macs, and Linux. The developers are working on a version for Android, but they don’t expect to release a version for “offical” IOS on iPads and iPhones (ie f-lux will not be available for IOS unless it is jailbroken).

Wikipedia defines a website thus:

A website (also written Web site or simply site) is a collection of related web pages containing images, videos or other digital assets . . . A web page is a document, typically written in plain text interspersed with formatting instructions of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML, XHTML)

We have all seen the power of websites develop over the years. Originally they were intended just as a method of disseminating text and pictures. They now include programming that allows sophisticated two-way interaction between the site and the user. We now take it for granted that we can access and change our records in databases such as those containing our electricity accounts or our banking information. We can view TV and videos, chat with each other, and so on. As you would expect, this flexibility comes at a price and the price is the complexity of the design process. Despite adverts to the contrary, a complete novice is very very unlikely to be satisfied with a website that they’ve managed to get online in just a few hours. Web design and creation is a complicated business.

Wikipedia defines a blog thus:

A blog (a blend of the term web log) is a type of website or part of a website. Blogs are usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. Most blogs are interactive, allowing visitors to leave comments…..

So, a blog is a particular type of website – one where the important aspect is that the author can write regular content. The emphasis is on being able to get the content onto the web with the minimum of technical fuss. This is great for authors writing regular text articles who don’t want the technology to get in the way of publishing the material. The articles are generally published one after another and accessed by the site visitor either chronologically (eg all the articles – known as “posts” – for Feb 2011) or by typing keywords into a search box (eg all the articles that mention the word “backups”). As well as the facility to leave comments, another great feature of blogs is that the website author(s) can create a “newsletter” service for subscribers so that as new blog posts are published they are automatically sent as emails to the subscribers. I offer this on my own site – see the box on this page.

Over the years the software for creating blogs has grown more flexible (or “more complicated”, if you prefer). For instance, one of the most popular systems for creating blogs is WordPress. Lots of people write freely obtainable fancy bits of programming to add to WordPress. These bells and whistles are called “plugins” and they enhance the power of the software. On my own site, for instance, I use a plugin that allows me to have different background images on different pages. All of these bells and whistles mean that the flexibility of blog design software has grown. It is now quite possible to satisfy all of the needs of an entire website with blog software alone. Note that blog sites are also sometimes described or defined as “Content Management Systems”. See for a fuller description/definition of CMS.

There are many advantages in having a blog and a website as part of the same site. These include:

  • greater visibility to search engines such as Google
  • less to learn to get get a system up and running
  • easier to maintain
  • much more content for visitors – whether they are initially interested in the blog or the more “static” pages of a website
  • a likely increase in the number of pages each visitor views on the site

All of this leads me very neatly into being able to plug my own site. Until recently I had separate website and blog at different web addresses, written with different technologies, looking different from each other, and gaining different sets of visitors looking for different things. I have now combined these by re-writing both into the WordPress Content Managment System. WordPress is a free “cloud” system – ie you do not install WordPress on your own computer, but do all of the development via the web. This has the distinct advantage of not having to buy any software to develop your system but I’ll risk looking a gifthorse in the mouth by saying that I find it rather tedious doing this development work “in the cloud” as it does tend to slow things down a bit. That aside, I do recommend WordPress to anyone considering developing a content management system. Your first port of call would be

Combining a blog with a website can cause confusion. Judging from the feedback I’ve had this week, I’m guilty of this, so, until I can find a better way of doing things, I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that my own blog is the content that appears on the top righthand side of all the pages on my site. the blog can be accessed from the box that looks like this:
Blog widget

The four clickable headings at the top of the box are very typical of what you will see on many blogs so I will explain each one:

Recent Posts – is a list of the most recent posts that I have written. When the “Recent Posts” option is highlighted (or when that button is clicked), the titles of the most recent posts appear in chronological order (eg “Cloud Computing”, “Telephone Scam”). If you click on any of these titles you are taken directly to the post with that title.

Recent Comments
– is a list of the most recent comments with links (where available) to the author and links to the comments themselves.

Blog Post Archive
lists the months in which blogs were posted. Clicking on any of these causes a long scrollable screen of the contents of all the blog posts for the chosen month.

Tag Cloud is a bit jargony. It shows the most-used keywords that are included in the blog posts. The bigger it appears in this “cloud” the more often the keyword appears. Clicking on any word in the clouds brings up a scrollable list of all the blogs containing that word.

The pages of my website, on the other hand, are accessed via the menu that appears across the top of the screen. This is also repeated on the righthand side in the box entitled “Web Pages”.

Pages menu

Web pages widget
So, if you are thinking of having your own website and/or blog soon, it is well worth considering carefully what you are trying to achieve before deciding whether the format that would suit you best is a more traditional “website” approach or the newer “content management system” (“blog”) approach. Whichever approach you take is likely to involve a fair amount of time and/or money and I can tell you from experience that you probably won’t want to change your chosen web technology for quite a while after committing to something. For what it’s worth, my guess is that Content Management Systems (such as WordPress) are the way to go in the foreseeable future.

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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