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Sleep Box: How Mark Zuckerberg’s sleep invention helps his wife Priscilla get more rest

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has invented a machine to help his wife get more sleep. Would you try it?

When it comes to sleep, there’s one thing that impacts your rest levels more than anything else: blue light.

What is blue light? It’s the light wavelengths that are emitted from artificial devices, like all those pesky electronic screens. The more you look at blue light – from your phones, laptop screen or tablet, for example – especially after the dark, the more problems you will have with your sleep.

The reson for this is because blue light stimulates your brain and suppresses the release of melatonin, or the hormones that kickstart our sleep cycles each evening. According to a study from Harvard, the amount of time spent looking at blue light directly correlates to the amount of time spent sleeping poorly. Studies have also revealed that in some cases blue light has been known to cause depression, anxiety disorders and even bipolar.     

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We get it – blue light is bad. But how can we reduce the impact that blue light has on our sleep cycles? How can we make sure that we have good, healthy sleep hygiene and that we get the most out of our circadian rhythms?

Mark Zuckerberg has come up with something of a solution. The Facebook founder created what he calls a “sleep box” for his wife to help combat the negative effects of blue light.

mark zuckerberg baby max priscilla chan
Mark and Priscilla Zuckerberg with their baby daughter

The box, which sits on his wife’s bedside table, emits a “very faint light” between the hours of six and seven in the morning, and no light at all other times. This is because since having their two children, Priscilla Zuckerberg has had trouble sleeping all the way through the night. She often wakes up early in the morning, checks the time on her phone, and then is unable to return to sleep because of the blue light emitted from her screen.

What this box does, then, is serve as something of circadian rhythm-friendly alarm clock, to indicate to Priscilla the time without rousing her fully from her sleep cycle.

If she wakes up and sees the faint light emitted from the box, Priscilla will know that the time is between six and seven in the morning, and that their toddlers will be waking up soon, and that she can go back to sleep for a little while. If she wakes up and sees no light on the box, she knows that it’s too early and can still rest. All of this eliminates blue light disruption, and helps Priscilla reclaim her sleep cycle. 

“Being a mom is hard, and since we’ve had kids Priscilla has had a hard time sleeping through the night,” Zuckerberg wrote in an Instagram post. “She’ll wake up and check the time on her phone to see if the kids might wake up soon, but then knowing the time stresses her out and she can’t fall back asleep. So I worked on building her what I call the ‘sleep box’.”

According to Zuckerberg, “so far this has worked better than I expected and she can now sleep through the night. As an engineer, building a device to help my partner sleep better is one of the best ways I can think of to express my love and gratitude. A bunch of my friends have told me they’d want something like this, so I’m putting this out there in case another entrepreneur wants to run with this and build sleep boxes for more people!”

A sleep box isn’t the only way you can reduce your blue light exposure. The simplest, easiest thing to do is reduce your screen time before bed, ideally for at least one hour before you plan to go to sleep. This gives your body enough time to start secreting melatonin, and gives your mind a rest from the stimulation of all those screens.

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Try reading instead of scrolling before bed.

Make like Jennifer Aniston, who puts her phone at least five feet away from her bed before she goes to sleep. “That’s helped me tremendously,” she told Ariana Huffington in an interview about her struggles with insomnia. “But the biggest thing is the electronics shutdown, ideally an hour before I turn off the lights. It’s really a big deal.” 

Why not try a technology shutdown before bed tonight? It might even achieve the same successful results for you as the ‘sleep box’ does for Mark and Priscilla Zuckerberg. And if you’re looking for a sleep box of your own, try a blue light-free analogue alarm clock or a the Lumie Bodyclock, which wakes you up with gradually increasing light. 

Images: Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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