Welcome to my article about the effects of light on sleep.
I’m sure you’re aware that getting a good night’s sleep is extremely important for both your physical and mental wellbeing.
In fact, not getting a decent night’s sleep will have an adverse effect on energy levels throughout the following day.
This in turn can wreak havoc on your mood, your emotions, your productivity, and there is even evidence that proves that not sleeping well at night can cause issues with your weight.
I’m sure if you’re anything like me, you’ve spent many a night tossing and turning, unable to get some shut-eye, and you’d do practically anything for a proper night’s rest.
You Have More Control Over How You Sleep Than You Think
That’s correct – you actually have far more control over how you sleep at night than you may think.
I know for a fact that I used to do so many things on a daily basis that would affect how I was going to sleep that night.
Unfortunately, at the time I didn’t actually realize it, and there were certains habits of mine, and indeed lifestyle factors, that were simply destroying any chance I had of sleeping well.
It wasn’t until I researched my own issues with sleeping in far more detail that I suddenly started to recognize the various mistakes I was making.
If you are making the same types of errors as I was, this will have a negative impact on your mood, immune system, strength and stamina, heart and brain health, creativity, and as once again, your weight.
Surely, if you knew you were doing things on a daily basis that were harmful to your health and your ability to sleep well, you’d want to do something about it.
The Effects of Light on Sleep – Melatonin
Melatonin, is a name that you will hear over-and-over again when it comes to sleep. This is a hormone that is naturally secreted by the pineal gland of the brain, and something that I like to call the “sleep hormone”.
Your sleep-wake cycle, which is your body’s internal 24-hour clock, is actually regulated by melatonin.
During the day, when it is typically light, the brain’s production of melatonin will slow right down. However, as dusk draws in and it starts to get dark, melatonin production increases.
Typically when melatonin production is low you will feel alert and awake (this makes sense as melatonin is at its lowest levels during the day). And the opposite is true when the brain and the body start to produce more melatonin – you will generally feel tired and sleepy.
However, the way melatonin is produced is controlled by various aspects of your everyday life. So, in order to get the most benefit I would suggest that there are certain practices you should avoid and other routines you may wish to introduce into your life.
How The Sun Can Actually Be Good For Sleep
I think it’s extremely important to expose yourself to sunlight during the day, and this is especially true from the moment you wake up (if possible).
Think about it for a moment.
I’ve spoken about the production of melatonin and your sleep-wake cycle above.
Is there a better way to let the brain and body know that it is no longer “sleep time” by getting some natural light from the very second you wake up?
Simply step outside and feel the sun’s rays on your face. Perhaps enjoy your morning coffee on the balcony or in your garden. If all else fails, then sit by a window that is exposed to sunlight and feel that beautiful, warm, tingly sensation on your skin as you enjoy your breakfast.
I would advise you to spend as much time as possible outside during daylight hours. This may involve you stepping outdoors during any breaks while at the office, exercising outside, or even taking the dog for a walk during the day rather than at night.
This is even true if it’s gloomy and dull outside and there isn’t a spec of sun in the sky. This is still natural light and will do wonders for your mood, and believe it or not, this will also be beneficial for you when it comes to sleeping later during the night.
What If You’re Stuck Indoors All Day?
Okay, I get it, not all of us have the luxury of simply being able to pop out, as and when we feel like it. But, there are still things you can do to ensure you’re getting as much natural light as possible.
If you work from home or an office, you can still make sure that curtains or blinds are kept open during the day. You may even want to consider moving your desk or workspace closer to a window that lets in light.
If this isn’t an option you may wish to look at using a light therapy lamp if you feel you’re not getting enough natural light. This is especially true during the shorter days of winter.
A light therapy lamp will simulate sunshine and is particularly good for those of you who may suffer with mild or moderate depression due to seasonal affective disorder ( I know I do).
There’s Also Such A Thing As Getting Too Much of the Wrong Light
Something that you will hear numerous times when it comes to getting a decent night’s sleep is to limit your use of bright screens. And there’s a good reason for this.
For me personally, I like to stop using my smartphone, tablet, laptop, and even TV at least an hour before I’m ready to hit the sack. Although 2 hours is probably better.
All of these electronic devices emit blue light, which is known to disturb our sleep-wake cycle and can even interfere with the production of melatonin (you are almost tricking your brain into believing that it’s still daytime).
If you don’t wish to completely avoid using these devices then consider turning the brightness levels down, or use an app such as f.lux. This will change the color of your screen to a reddish-amber, which will help to reduce eyestrain and can aid in getting a better night’s rest.
I know I used to watch TV before hopping into bed, but my research taught me that it wasn’t just light that was an issue here.
I’d often watch an interesting documentary, or a thriller, or a horror, which did nothing more than stimulate my brain.
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how bad this can be just before bedtime. I had enough trouble trying to switch my brain off as I got into bed anyway, so arousing my mind and providing it with an inspirational spark was a definitely no-no.
I eventually moved on to reading books (a physical one at that, do you remember them?) just before I went to bed, although I had to pick a genre that I wouldn’t find overly exhilarating. You could always try an audio book or music for entertainment as well.
My own advice is to stay away from the blue light for at least 60 minutes before you go to bed.
Don’t Ruin All Your Good Work Once You Go To Bed
I had a problem for many years with thin and light curtains, although this didn’t occur to me at the time.
In order to avoid light from street lamps or the sun streaming in at 4am on a summer’s day you may want to look at installing dark and heavy curtains, shades, or even consider wearing an eye mask.
Something as simple as the light being emitted from a digital clock can also disturb your sleep, so the good-old analogue clock (or no clock at all) may be the way forward.
Are you someone who wakes often during the night in need of a bathroom break?
Even something as inconspicuous as turning on the lights to go to the bathroom can disturb the sleep-wake cycle and melatonin production, so it makes more sense to keep a torch by your bed, or even a dimmer switch in the hallway.
I know this all sounds a bit much, but trust me you’ll thank me when you’re able to fall asleep quickly and easily again, which is highly unlikely after you’ve been blinded by a 60-watt bulb.
I think it’s obvious the amount light influences how we sleep, whether that’s light you’re exposed to during the day or at night.
If you’re someone who struggles with sleep, I suggest you start using light to your advantage.
We all know just how badly a lack of sleep can influence the following day, but only if you allow it too.
Are you getting enough natural light during the day?
Are you guilty of getting too much blue light close to bedtime?
Do you struggle with sleeping at night?
Hopefully, you’re starting to see the connection now.
The effects of light on sleep are plain for all to see.
If you have any thoughts on the impact light is having on your sleeping patterns, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
Until then, Happy Sleeping.