There’s nothing worse than knowing you need a good night’s sleep, but not being able to get it. There are many internal and external factors that can affect sleep, including blood sugar, pain, hormones, and stress. But one piece of the puzzle that we have a substantial amount of control over is light. And yet, many people have not learned how to work with this variable for their benefit.
Regulating Circadian Rhythm
Light plays a central role in regulating circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock that dictates when we rise and when we go to bed. Light affects our production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. This system worked well before electricity was invented. As the sun set, our ancestors had nothing but candlelight or a gas light. The lack of artificial light allowed them to go to bed soon after nightfall and rise with the first morning sunlight. If you think about it, our genes haven’t changed much from our cavemen ancestors. But just in the past 100 years, a relatively short period in the timeline of human evolution, our bodies and brains have not caught up with the overload of artificial light in our lives. This, along with our busy, over-packed, overstressed lives, has led to a lot of insomnia and sleep issues.
Takes a toll on our bodies and energy
Besides feeling crummy, lack of sleep can affect so many of our body’s processes. It can make it difficult to meet the demands of the day since our energy and mood can take a hit. Our brains also suffer with critical thinking skills, memory, and poor judgment topping the list. Accidents and injury are also more likely with poor sleep. Even one partial night of sleep can make your blood sugar rise and your immune system fall. If those weren’t reasons enough to get good quality sleep, weight gain is yet another issue for many who can’t get the recommended amount of slumber.
So where do you begin?
One of the worst offenders is the blue light from your computer, smartphone, or tablet. But there are ways around this. Check your devices for amber filters that you can set to go on a couple of hours before you go to sleep. If you don’t have one as a built-in feature, you can download an app that has the same affect. Even better, turn off your devices a couple of hours before bed. And make the commitment to get your TV out of the bedroom if you haven’t already. There are also glasses you can easily buy on Amazon that will block the blue light. You might also look into light bulbs that help promote sleep by blocking the blue spectrum of light as well.
Once the sun sets…
Do a check of your lights at home to see if you can use a light dimmer or at least choose lamps instead of bright overhead lights. And once you go to bed, make sure to turn off all sources of light in the bedroom. Use blackout shades if needed. If you can’t achieve total darkness, look into a good sleep mask.
Once the sun rises…
If you can, get outside for 10 minutes as soon as you wake up. The bright light will help reset your circadian rhythm for the day. If you live in a part of the country that makes this difficult in the winter, look into a light box that is marketed for Seasonal Affective Disorder.
There is so much more that goes into getting good sleep, but this is a good start if you’re having issues. Make sure your bedroom is a quiet, dark, cool sleep sanctuary to give yourself the best shot possible.