Technology and its Effects on Sleep

Smart phones give us access to the entire world in a device that fits in our pockets. We use smart phones for everything and can use them everywhere. They give us access to knowledge, entertainment, allow us to stay connected with our friends, and allow us to make purchases from the comfort of our homes. 

A recent Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, points out that smart phone apps are designed to purposely keep us glued to screens. This has many detrimental side effects on our mental health and wellbeing. Lack of sleep is also detrimental to our mental health and late-night phone use has been linked with poorer quality of sleep. 

There are several factors of smart phone use that can cause poorer sleep quality. The most obvious being that it is so easy to get sucked into a rabbit hole of social media or finish “one more level”. A final check of your phone as you get into bed can quickly eat up precious sleep time.  

Another factor with smart phones, or screens in general, is the blue light they emit. Studies have shown a link between blue light and the decreased production of melatonin. This can affect your ability to go to sleep. 

Our bodies natural sleep wake cycles are influenced by several factors, one of those being light. As evening approaches our bodies detect a decrease in light and start to release more melatonin – preparing our bodies for sleep. The body produces melatonin throughout the night, reducing the production as morning arrives. 

Screen time in the evening can delay the production of melatonin. Because of this we have trouble falling asleep. Lying in bed wide awake many people will reach for their smart phone. They will then get sucked into a social media rabbit hole, again delaying the production of melatonin and robbing us of sleep. A vicious cycle. 

Reducing the Effects of Blue Light

Fortunately, smart phone manufacturers have recognised the problem they have helped to create. Updated versions of iOS and Android include tools that can help you to manage time spent on your smart phone (Screentime and Digital Wellbeing). These tools allow you to configure schedules when you can access apps, give you options to reduce notifications in the evenings, and enable low blue or greyscale modes at certain times of the day or night. Having a break from technology a few hours before bed is still the best way to lower your blue light exposure.

If possible, avoid taking your devices into your bedroom. If you are using your device as an alarm clock, be sure to take advantage of the do-not-disturb mode so you are not tempted to see who has just sent you a message or liked a post on instagram. Using Nightshift on iOS and and Bedtime mode on Android can be used to lower the blue light being emitted if you do need to use the phone in the evening.

If the temptation to play one more level of a game is too much it might be best to remove the app from your device entirely. You are also able to limit the use of apps via Screentime on iOS, or App Timers on Android. This could help to combat those late night Candy Crush marathons.

We all use technology in different way. This means there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to limiting screen time. If you find yourself struggling with device use in the evening, try experimenting with the features available and find what works for you. Don’t jump in the deep end, start small and work up from there.

The Dark Web

If advertising from Internet Security and VPN companies is anything to go by, then the Dark Web is a playground for cyber criminals to trade stolen credit cards and passwords in a wild west free for all.

There is some merit to this, but it is mostly scare tactic to sell you another program that you most likely do not need. While the Dark Web does have its dark side, it’s underlying technology can also be used for good. It can be used to help protect people in countries who do not have favourable human rights. It can help journalist to anonymously communicate with a source. And it can help the average Joe reclaim their privacy online.

There are several variants of the Dark Web, the most popular being Tor Project or The Onion Router Project. Onion routing allows for anonymous communications by using many layers of encryption. The many layers of Onion Routing are comparable to the layers of an onion, hence the namesake.

Onion Routing was developed in the mid 90s by the US Navel Research Laboratory to help protect US intelligence communications. The project was further developed by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The software was then release by DARPA under a free licence from which The Onion Routing Project (Tor Project) was developed. This was release in 2006.

How does Onion Routing work

In its most basic form, when you visit a website, your data is sent directly to the web server hosting the website. The website can see exactly where the data come from and is able to log the IP address of the visitor. Depending on the speed of your internet, this all happens pretty quickly. An example is shown below.

Your PC <->

When you use Onion Routing this happens a little differently. Visiting websites via Onion Routing can also be very slow due to the way data is bounced around between many nodes which may be located in different countries.

First of all your computer encrypts the data you are sending to the server. This data has many different layers. Each layer is encrypted with a key that can only be decrypted by a specific node.

The network might look like this:

Your PC <-> Node 1 <-> Node 2 <-> Node 3 <-> Exit Node <->

Your PC sends the request to Node 1. Node 1 decrypts its layer and sends the data to Node 2. Node 1 only knows about your PC and Node 2.

Node 2 receives the data and decrypts its layer. Node 2 does not know where the data came from originally or if there are 1 or 10 nodes before it. It only knows about the node it received data from and the node it is forwarding data to – in this case Node 3.

This continues until the data reaches the Exit Node. The Exit Node knows what website it is accessing and it knows about the node directly before it – in this case Node 3 – but it does not know the data originated from your PC. The Exit Node sends the data on to sees that the data came from the Exit Node and this is the IP address that is logged as visiting the website.

This is all done again, but in reverse, starting with the full encrypted onion at and slowly peeling back the layers until the data is received on your PC. Even though the data has come back and you can view the website, does not see your IP address.

This issue with this scenario is the data leaves the security of Onion Routing at the last step to visit a Clear Web website. While this still gives you some anonymity, it is not as secure as staying in the Onion Routing network. The anonymous nature of the network also depends on your browsing practises.

To get the full features of Onion Browsing you need to browse the Dark Web.

The Dark Web

To get the full benefits of Onion Routing you need to stay within the confines of the Onion Routing network and not have requests leave via an Exit Node onto the Clear Web.

Tor network has the ability to host what are called Tor Hidden Services. These are websites that end in the top level domain .onion.

When browsing a .onion website you are viewing what is know as the Dark Web.

This is where the dark side comes to the Dark Web. Many Tor Hidden Services contain illegal content, including forums where cybercriminals trade personal data, passwords, and credit card details.

There are however, legitimate services accessible via Tor. Facebook have their own Tor Hidden Service which give users access to Facebook in countries in which it is blocked. DuckDuckGo also have a Tor Hidden Service to allow you to perform searches while in the confines of the Onion Network (although DuckDuckGo only indexes Clear Web websites so any links will send your request out via an Exit Node.) Another service, ProtonMail (a privacy focused email service) also offer a Tor Hidden Service to access their services.

Being Anonymous

Using Tor Browser will not automatically make you anonymous online. There are many other steps involved including sorting out your security hygiene practises. By creating stronger passwords, turning on 2FA, and cleaning up what is publicly visible about you on the internet, you’ll be taking bigger steps towards increasing your online security than using a VPN or Tor alone. Deleting old accounts and limiting what you share online is equally important. Once these tasks are done you may benefits from the anonymous natures of Tor.

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