Just like the right vitamins and adequate exercise, the right amount of light is proving to be an essential element for optimal health. Not surprisingly, natural sunlight delivers the entire spectrum of light needed to cue your body’s circadian rhythms, which control your sleep/wake cycles. The first rays of dawn, the bright indoor light of your local coffee shop, the direct task lighting at your desk—these are all cues to your eyes and brain that it’s time to wake and work. Conversely, dim light, soft shadows and complete darkness help signal our bodies that it’s time to rest.
dim light, soft shadows and complete darkness help signal our bodies that it’s time to rest.
Unfortunately, the trappings of modern-day living serve up quite a few disruptions to this perfectly natural rhythm. Smart phones, tablets, TVs, street lights and even artificial indoor light can run on a 24/7 schedule throwing off our body, particularly sleep hormones. (By the way, Thomas Edison, the father of artificial light, claimed he slept no more than four hours a day, and he apparently enforced the same vigilance among his employees.) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep. Don’t think <yawn> that’s concerning? Think again, Mr. Edison. Sleep deficiency and untreated sleep disorders are associated with a growing number of health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, obesity and certain cancers.
So, getting serious about your sleep is seriously healthy. Here are five ways you can maximize your shut-eye time.
The darker, the better.
Dr. James Andry, founder and medical director of the Sleep Therapy & Research Center in San Antonio, Texas, says, “Even low-level lights can shut off melatonin, a hormone that helps us prepare to fall asleep.” Create a dark sanctuary with fully closed window coverings and turn off all sources of artificial light. Speaking of window coverings, installing room-darkening or blackout shades is a smart investment. Whether it’s a blackout liner behind a traditional shade or an integrated solution offering natural light and room darkening, these window coverings make it easy to bring darkness to your bedroom and invite more deep sleep.
Avoid the blues.
A Nobel Prize confirms mounting evidence about blue light. A trio of scientists won the award in October 2017 for discerning the molecular mechanisms controlling our circadian clock—including light’s central role. Too much blue light (yes, from tablets and cell phones) at night can cause your internal clock to slip off beat, setting off a cascade of potential consequence with poor sleep just the tip of the iceberg.
Soak up the sun.
Daylight also regulates daily sleep patterns. Try to get outside in natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes each day. If possible, wake up with the sun or use very bright lights in the morning. Sleep experts recommend that, if you have problems falling asleep, you should get an hour of exposure to morning sunlight and turn down the lights before bedtime.
Stick to the routine.
Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even if it’s different from your partner’s. (Try earplugs, an eye mask or a vibrating alarm clock.)
Keep it cozy.
Make your bedroom neat and cozy. Get rid of anything that might distract you from sleep, such as the TV, bright lights, an uncomfortable bed, or warm temperatures. You sleep better if the temperature in the room is kept on the cool side. If you have insomnia and tend to watch the clock, turn the clock’s face out of view so you don’t worry about the time.