Light & Sleep
The dark night
When’s the last time you experienced true darkness? Without street lights, lamp lights, without light emitting from your work computers, light bulbs, home televisions or from your tablets and cell phones? We live in a world where electricity and artificial light surrounds us everywhere. An increasing amount of research suggests that – for the sake of our sleep health – we all need to pay much more attention to the presence of light in our daily lives.
A vital factor in regulating sleep and your biological clocks is exposure to light or to darkness. With the invention of the electric lightbulb in the late 19th century, we’re now exposed to much more light at night than we had been previously throughout our evolution. And this new pattern of light exposure is affecting our sleep habits. When you’re exposed to light, it stimulates a nerve pathway in your eye that then communicates to parts of your brain that controls what makes you feel sleepy or wide-awake, such as hormones and body temp. Regulating exposure to light can optimize sleep quality as well as energizing awake time. Sweet, right?
Think of yourself as a human solar energy panel. When you’re exposed to light, sunlight or artificial light, it can boost your alertness and reaction times, elevate your mood and keep you awake. When the light goes away, your melatonin levels naturally rise, energy subsides and sleep begins to commence.
Too much light immediately before bedtime may prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep, and falling asleep with lights on may not be the best thing either. Your brain is stimulated by the light, thinking it needs to be awake and functioning on levels similar to daytime. Needless to say, your brain needs downtime (also known as sleep) and an active brain doesn’t disengage well.
Switching off the lights is an easy fix to this problem, but there’s more we need to be thinking about. Watching TV, reading a book from a tablet, answering emails on your phone – all before bed, can hinder your ability to sleep as well. The blue spectrum light that emits from our electronic devices has been proven to be especially disruptive to our sleep patterns and ability to get a good night’s sleep. It suppresses the natural release of melatonin in your system, making it harder to get to sleep and stay asleep.
Lightside vs darkside
So what’s the answer? Don’t worry you don’t have to live in a dark hole at night. Start by exposing yourself to light during the day and limiting your exposure to artificial light as much as possible at night. This will help keep your sleep pattern in check and keep a balance to your natural circadian clock.
Manage your environment
- Make an effort during the day to find time for sunlight. Or at least sit near a sunny window.
- After dinner, dim the lights in your home to allow your brain time to wind down.
- Read a book before bed or chat quietly with someone, naturally slowing your brain.
- Keep your sleep environment dark with light-blocking curtains.
- Use an eye mask, especially if a partner is up using light emitting devices in bed.
- Use a low illumination night light if you need light to find the bathroom during the night.
- If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom or grab a glass of water, avoid as much light as possible.
Manage your light-emitting devices
- Limit TV viewing and computer use an hour before bedtime
- Dim the brightness on your devices if you need them before you plan to sleep
- Reverse the print so the page is dark and the text is light
- Turn off your device at least a half hour before bed
Think about light as a powerful medicine – one that needs to be used correctly and with respect. It can provide us with an abundance of benefits when used correctly, but when over exposed it can have adverse effects on our health and sleep. As with everything in life, balancing the scales is key.
How do you balance light at the end of your day? Got any tricks you can share for getting a better night’s sleep? We’d love to hear them!