We spend a lot of time talking about UV light or sleep, but we never talk about how light can interrupt or help your sleep patterns. It may seem obvious that things like natural sunlight or bright lights will cause a disruption to your sleep, but how much? And why does certain lighting seem to help us sleep better?
Our bodies have evolved to follow circadian rhythms, which is basically your internal clock for a normal 24 hour time period. Most people’s bodies will follow sunrise as their “wake up” time and sunset as their “sleep time”, though there are any number of reasons why this could be switched entirely or might be slightly different for some.
Natural light triggers a response in the brain that it is time to be awake, even if you haven’t gotten your recommended number of hours. This is why people who work night shifts or people who may be extra sensitive to sunlight might have blackout curtains on their bedroom windows in order to avoid sunlight creeping through to wake them up earlier than their body requires. It is also why we may find it difficult to take naps during the day or go to bed before the sun is down, even if we are physically tired.
One of the most common artificial lights, blue light, has been proven to cause major disruptions in sleep patterns. In fact, most doctors have started recommending that any use of blue light (cell phones, tablets, computers, televisions) cease at least one hour before your planned bedtime. Using blue light devices causes a delay in melatonin production in your brain, which causes your body to not feel as tired, and causes more strain on your eyes.
Sleeping in near or total darkness is the best for everyone, but it may not be an option for you. For most, it’s more about personal comfort, and not many people are comfortable with complete darkness. In fact, a large number of adults use some form of night light or lamp in their bedroom or just outside of their bedroom door in order to have some sight in case of emergency. If you are the type of person who needs a little bit of light, consider using a soft, yellow toned light that is kept close to the floor as far from your bed as possible. Avoid night lights with “fun” colors or flashing lights or patterns of any kind.
Some people find that adjusting their lighting in their bedroom and getting darker curtains or better coverage blinds is all it takes to help them find better sleep. Other people find that even with adjustments, they still struggle to get into a regular sleep pattern. If you can’t seem to find any system that works for you, consult with your doctor to discuss other options.