Sleep plays an important role in health, it is the time when our bodies do a lot of restoring and repairing that we need to be fresh for the next day. The way we live has evolved and changed to involve a lot more use of technology, and our bodies have adapted to this new lifestyle in some ways. As it turns out though, our bodies haven’t quite adapted to all this technology when it comes to sleep, and the biggest reason for this is light!
Light plays an integral role for our body when it comes to sleep as it guides the internal processes that our bodies use to rest and recover in those times. This can be seen through the effects of light on melatonin, which is a hormone that is produced in the body to help us sleep. Research shows that blue or white light, (which is what many products like TVs, LED lights, and computers produce) actually inhibits the production of melatonin.
Poor sleep quality is linked to several health outcomes like increased depression, breast cancer, heart disease and obesity, and can also impact the body’s immune system, hormone regulation and levels of energy.
This is why it becomes essential to be mindful of how much light we expose ourselves to when we want to sleep. In an increasingly technological world, many people are exposed to a lot more light late at night before sleeping, than what are bodies are accustomed to. However, there are a few things we can do to help ourselves out so that we are getting a more restful and improved quality of sleep.
- Avoid falling asleep with the TV on: Falling asleep with the TV on can result in constant exposure to the kind of light that suppresses melatonin production and impairs sleep quality. It’s better for the environment and your electricity bills this way too so: win, win, win.
- Avoid light right before sleep: If you wake up in the middle of the night and want to get back to sleep avoid checking your phone (I’ve often done this, but no more!) or using the tv or computer. They’ll make it take longer for you to get to sleep and reduce sleep quality.
- Using dim-red or orange night lights: Orange and red light does not suppress melatonin in the same way that blue and white light does, so if you need to get up in the middle of the night it will help your sleep if you turn on these kind of night lights instead of turning on the lights for a whole room. Place them in common spots that you would need them like the bathroom, your bedroom or the hallways. A flashlight can also be helpful to allow you see what you need to see without exposing your eyes to a lot of unnecessary light.
- Waking up with sunlight: Just as a lack of light helps you sleep, exposing your eyes to light also helps wake you up! When it’s time to get up, use light to your advantage.
- Try downloading ‘Flux’: a great app for computers that will automatically adjust the lighting of your computer screen based on the time of day. Your eyes might thank you! Here is a link: http://stereopsis.com/flux/
What about shift workers?
In an ideal world when it comes to sleep we would all be able to sleep when it’s dark and be up when it’s light, but life doesn’t always work that way, especially for shift workers! Working the night shift and having to sleep during the day can make light control very difficult and throw off the body’s circadian rhythm.
Here are some strategies to help shift workers working the night shift deal with light control:
- Create a brightly lit environment in the early hours of the morning to help keep you awake through your nightshift
- Wear sunglasses on the way home to help your body get ready for sleep.
- Create a dark environment to sleep in when sleeping during the day. If the curtains let in too much light, a sleeping mask for your eyes might be a worthwhile investment. There are a surprisingly large number of styles!
**Curly mustache not included**
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