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Restoring our Sleep with Correct Lighting

In this column I’d like to introduce the correct wavelengths of light that we need in the evening to have a nourishing sleep.

The benefits of regular, deep sleep include: energy, alertness, quick reaction time, natural craving control, a healthy libido, balanced weight, resilience to stress, longer life and reduced risk of cancer, diabetes, depression and chronic disease.  Sleep deprivation leads to the opposite and is predominant in modern life, with many of us being chronically fatigued, overweight and unwell.

One of the most important factors for a good night’s sleep is the amount, intensity and type of light we are exposed to in the evening.  It turns out that artificial light, with its blue wavelength, makes the body think that it is still day and consequently suppresses our melatonin production and stimulates the stress hormone cortisol.  The result is that we are stimulated and unlikely to go to sleep—or be able to go to sleep.

Our fullness hormone, leptin, is also decreased by exposure to blue light, leading to excess eating in the evenings.

This phenomena is particularly emphasized when we gaze into a screen in the evening hours: TV’s, computers, cell phones and tablets all have too much blue light and prevent us from sleeping well.

When we look at our evolution, this disruption is easy to understand.  A bright day has about 50,000 lux of light which goes down to 1 lux at dusk.  For most of our past, we relied on fire (red/orange) for night visibility.  Our bodies evolved to fit in to this cycle.  The introduction of electrical lighting at night has brutally offset our normal circadian rhythm.

Luckily there are a few effective solutions that don’t require the total elimination of lights or screens.

  •  The best all-around trick for avoiding blue light in the evening, (short of going to sleep early), is to wear amber glasses or goggles for 1-2 hours before your bedtime—or from dusk on.  These filter out the blue rays and allow the body to relax into its normal sleepiness.
  • There is also a program for computers, phones and tablets that dims the light.  One needs to dim the other lights in the room as well.
  • Use a red nightlight for getting up when it’s still dark to avoid getting restimulated with blue light and not be able to get back to sleep.
  • Keep the bedroom totally dark, even eliminating light from alarm clocks.
  • Change from doing screen work at night to getting up early, which is better for our health as the time asleep before midnight heals and rebuilds our bodies
  • Candles, oil lamps and fire don’t trigger melatonin suppression so can be used as a source of light.
  • Spending time out in daylight in the afternoon helps balance our circadian rhythm, optimizing alertness in the daytime and sleepiness at night.
  •  Parents of young children can buy nursery packages.  Babies don’t start making their own melatonin until they are about 10 weeks old (longer for preemies).
  • Consider adding supplemental melatonin for yourself and/or children; see a naturopathic or medical doctor for appropriate doses and how to monitor.  (parentingscience.com for info)

Sources
https://www.lowbluelights.com/products.asp?PageIndex=1  (amber glasses, low blue light bulbs, screen filters, night lights)
http://www.eschenbach.com/products-absorptive-filters-wellness-protect-eyewear.htm (blue light reducing eyewear)
http://justgetflux.com/ (app for computer to adjust light output of computer screen to reduce blue light emitted during night time hours)