According to the Sleep Foundation, “Light is the most important external factor affecting sleep.” While most people intuitively know that it’s easier to sleep when it’s dark, the link between light and sleep goes much deeper. Light affects melatonin production as well as assists in the regulation of circadian rhythm.
Circadian rhythms are what help tell your body when it should be awake and when it should be asleep. Light and darkness greatly affect our circadian rhythm for clear reasons. Until very recently (within only 150 years, with the invention of the light bulb) artificial light was essentially nonexistent. Our bodies were adapted to the normal light and dark cycles of the day that the sun brought.
In today’s world we have all the light we need in a simple flip of the switch. Now, no one is arguing to return to the pre-industrial age just so we all can sleep properly! But knowing how best to manipulate light and the environment around your sleep can greatly improve your sleep quality.
Managing Light Exposure
Our circadian clocks are most sensitive a couple of hours before we normally go to sleep. Bright light in the evening can shift when your body feels ready to fall asleep. It’s best to try and keep light minimal in those couple hours leading into bed time. This will allow your body to wind down and get ready to sleep.
Using minimal lighting around the house, limiting screen time, or even wearing sunglasses if you are unable to manage light exposure can be used to try and better prepare your body for a good night’s rest.
If you have to get up in the middle of the night for any reason, use minimal lighting. Just a night light in the hallway or bathroom would be ideal. This will help keep from disrupting your circadian clock and make it easier to fall back asleep.
When you do wake up for the day, keep the lights a little dimmer for the first hour. This will help keep from pushing your rhythm earlier which could result in making you sleepy earlier in the day. Then after that “sunrise” hour, be sure to have plenty of light. Exposure to dimly lit environments throughout much of the day can also disrupt the natural rhythms making you tired when you should be alert and cause havoc on the circadian clock.
Making New Habits
If you are someone trying to change your bedtime or wake up time, you can use these same strategies to help.
Bright light in the morning to start will help push the bedtime earlier as your body is getting used to the new rhythm. Darkening your environment two hours before you want to be sleeping is also important.
The most difficult for the majority of us will be to limit screen time during those last two hours before sleep. Turning off the computers, TV’s and phones is hard.
To start you can try turning down the brightness of your devices. Some devices even have a grayscale or blue light limiting options now to assist in managing light exposure in the evening and early morning.
Our physiologies are not accustomed to the luxuries that are so normal in western society. We feel as though we should be able to just turn off the light and fall asleep. But our bodies have not adapted to this.
Don’t try to fight your biology!
Give your body what it needs to recharge and it will reward you. Feeling rested in the morning and alert all day is an amazing feeling.
When was the last time you felt this way?
Have you ever felt like that?
Give these simple strategies a try and see if there is any change to how you feel. Don’t expect a change all at once. Retraining your body can take some time. Give it a couple weeks to start working. Prioritize your sleep, your rest, and enjoy your days to the max!