The Importance of Sleeping in the Dark
Are you one of the many people who fall asleep in front of the tv, sleep with the lights on, or work l in front of your computer screen right up until your bedtime? If so, you are putting yourself at risk for a night (or nights!) of unhealthy sleep.
Both lightness and darkness impact our sleep. Exposure to light early in the day stimulates our body and our mind, making us feel awake, alert, and energized. Yet exposure to light at night also stimulates alertness that can hinder us getting a restful night of sleep.
How sleeping with the lights on affects your sleep
Your exposure to light or darkness is a key factor in the regulation of sleep so falling asleep with the lights on may not be the best thing for a good night's sleep. Artificial light, whether from lights or lamps, phone, computer screens, or the TV, disrupts the body's circadian rhythm, our body’s 24-hour sleep/wake cycle. Sleeping with the lights on has an effect on your brain wave patterns, the natural cycle of Melatonin production, and cell regulation all which disrupt your sleep cycle. This has been linked to a variety of health issues like depression, obesity, breast and prostate cancer, and cardiovascular disease, to name a few. It's also associated with sleep disorders like insomnia. Therefore, regulating your exposure to light is an effective way to keep circadian rhythms in check and benefit your health.
How melatonin affects our sleep
Melatonin influences sleep by sending a signal to the brain that it is time for rest. This signal helps initiate the body's physiological preparations for sleep—our muscles start to relax, we begin to feel drowsy, and our body temperature drops. Melatonin levels naturally rise during the early evening as darkness falls and continue to climb throughout most of the night, before peaking at approximately 3 a.m. Melatonin levels then fall during the early morning and remain low during much of the day. Evening light exposure inhibits the naturally timed rise of melatonin, which delays the onset of the body's transition to sleep.
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Tips for sleeping in darkness for a better sleep
Managing your exposure to light in the evening hours is key to creating a healthy sleep environment. Installing blackout curtains on bedroom windows keeps outside light from disturbing your sleep. These window coverings should be heavy enough to fully block the outside light, and well fitted to your windows to avoid avoid slivers of outside light from filtering in. An eye mask worn at night can help deepen the darkness of your bedroom and protect against any leaking or unexpected light. Overall your room darkness during sleep should be no more than that of moonlight on a clear evening.
Setting a sleep routine for better sleep
Establishing a sleep routine which reduces your exposure to light is a key factor in getting a good night’s rest. Dimming your interior lights an hour before bedtime encourages your body to start its physiological progression toward sleep. It’s also important to avoid all screen time the hour before bed. This includes the screen on your television, laptop, tablet and cell phone. The screens on these devices contains high concentrations of blue light, a wavelength of light that research has shown is especially detrimental to sleep.
Making just one small physical alteration (adding room-darkening curtains) and a few small behavioral changes (dimming the lights and avoiding screens before bedtime) are easy steps to help you get better sleep.
Ed Pienkosz is an experienced healthcare and behavior change professional with a focus on improving the quality of life through awareness, education and empowerment. He has more than 30 years of professional experience in healthcare and wellness including Population Health, Chronic Disease management and prevention, and quality of life improvement. Ed holds a Master’s of Science in Exercise Physiology and is a member of the International Consortium for Health & Wellness Coaching.