Someone asked how to deal with the compulsion to keep checking the latest news from Iraq. Reminded me of my malady, CNN Syndrome (my own invented term. Remember, you read it here first.), how it started, and how I’ve attempted to cure it.
For me, it began with Tiananmen Square, back when CNN was the only show in town. CNN was great then, Turner hadn’t turned it over to people who let it deteriorate. The best coverage for events in distant time zones was late at night, for some, late, late, late at night. China was one of those. I found it very difficult to leave those poor students to their fate while I simply slipped off to bed.
The combination of being there, yet not being there creates a dilemmaish situation. Live TV coverage provides the viewer with everything to prompt the need to help, yet withholds all means to help. All we can do is sit there and watch. But watch we must, because in some way it seems to us that we are extending some vaporish support, sympathy, some ethereal hand up, cool or warm drink, bandage, and arm around the shoulder. It’s the least we can do.
So, I watched. And, night after night, the scenes unfolded, live, far across the world.
Then, another disaster, and another, in California. The earthquake, the fire. And the Gulf War. All, live, late at night.
My sons and I also had a habit, when they were still living at home, to watch a bit of TV together in the evenings, late. We’d watch British comedies together, and movies, and just channel surf. It was a pleasant time together.
Now, they are elsewhere, but my body time clock has shifted. I’m sleepy earlier in the evening, too early to go to bed, and then I get my second wind, and the CNN Syndrome sets in. It’s 2 AM before it feels like I can bear to think of going to bed.
I’ve tried a whole lot of remedies. None have worked very well. I find I like staying up late. What I don’t like is sleeping through the mornings, or doing without sleep when I need to get up earlier. I want to be able to easily, comfortably, ecologically, harmoniously go to bed when I logically determine is the best time for me.
A few days ago I read something that may actually work for me in the book Power Sleep. It said that the way to make the shift to an earlier bed time is to expose myself to bright natural light soon after awakening in the morning, and to avoid exposure to strong light in the evening. I think that sounds funny, actually, as in, “get up and get to work in the morning, and turn off the light and go to bed in the evening. Duh.” But, I’ll be scientific about it, and maybe it will work.
Meanwhile, I’m still thinking about CNN Syndrome and its effects. I doubt very much that I and the person who wanted to know how to avoid the compulsion to keep checking the news and viewing all the misery and gore are the only ones affected by it. I think sufferers are in the millions. And, though it’s origins may be simple, the maintenance of CNN Syndrome is complex.
For example, I think those who are lonely, like me, sometimes, with no sons at home to stay up and watch TV with, husband wisely sleeping, have CNN Syndrome Ultra. There is something about misery at night, and remembering misery at night that kicks in the CNN Syndrome afterburners.
So, I think exposure to light in the morning and avoiding it in the evening are starters, and may work for the physiological elements of CNN Syndrome. But, there’s more, for many, if not most sufferers. We also need to take care of the emotional/memory needs that send us to the TV or computer screen (it’s still CNN Syndrome, even though the screen is different) and keep us there beyond the point of reasonableness.
I’m going to experiment with the bright light in the morning and not so bright in the evening. And, I’m going to use my favorite remedy for most things: add pleasure, to treat the emotional elments of the syndrome, substituting other pleasures for TV viewing and Web surfing past a certain hour in the evening.
I’ll report the results here. Want to join me? If so, you’re welcome to add your comments and personal research findings.