Rise and shine! Good morning sunshine, it’s a bright new day! Ahem, we’ve all heard these sayings that tell us that the sunrise means “wake up sleepyhead.” This is because we function on an internal clock that uses the sun as a sort of internal alarm clock and the night time as its own personal tranquilizer. We, as humans are diurnal, which means we evolved to wake up and go to bed with the sun, using the amount of light as our body’s cue to change gears. Our bodies do this automatically, but our busy modern lifestyle might not. If you want to feel better during the day and sleep deeper at night, here are some things to know and pay attention to around your home and at work that you can work on, to keep your circadian rhythm or internal waking/sleeping clock on schedule.
Your circadian rhythm controls your sleep patterns and many other internal functions including your appetite, cell regeneration and brain activity. When your circadian rhythm is off, it can cause sleep disorders and you may experience excessive daytime sleepiness, unusual sleep patterns and lower cognitive function during the daytime. It has been shown that people perform better in mental tasks and problem solving when the lighting is brighter in the room. Just one hour a day of bright natural light exposure causes these effects and increases melatonin production at night. Melatonin is known as the “sleep hormone” or “darkness hormone” because it uses darkness as a trigger to get your body ready for sleep. It does this by lowering your body temperature, lowering brain activity and relaxing muscles for resting time.
Whether we know it or not, our modern lifestyle can wreak havoc on this ability to create melatonin. Two factors affect this modern problem. The first is blue light, which comes from computer screens, smartphones, flat screen televisions and fluorescent or LED lighting. The other is the amount of ambient light in general around our home, in the hours before bed time. Modern screens that produce blue light, directly block melatonin production, so it’s important to turn them off at least an hour before bed time, so your body can start preparing you for sleep. Notice where any of these are in your home and especially around your bedroom. While you may feel the need to check your social media before bed, realize that it’s waking your brain and body back up because of the blue lighting. To combat this, switch your bedroom lighting to more yellow, natural lighting bulbs. Many manufacturers are beginning to make these because of this very problem. Also, if you must check your phone or read at night from a screen, download an app to cut out blue light, as many smartphones now have apps for night time that remove the blue lighting from your screen. To get around if you must get out of bed at night, try using nightlights with a redder or yellow low light bulb as these are less likely to trigger your body’s waking response.
Lastly, there is the lux and lumen factor. Lumens are a measure of how bright a light source or light bulb is. Lux, measures the surface area the light spreads over. Lumens tell you about the light source and lux is how bright it is in the space it’s in (e.g., your bedroom). To compare, a bright sunny day is anywhere from 32,000 to 130,000 lux. A cloudy or overcast day can be anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 lux. In contrast, a full moon is around 1 lux. See the difference? A typically lit home with lamps and overhead lighting, may have a lux reading from 300 to 500 and the lux value of the environment you sleep in, influences how easily you fall asleep. What you want to aim for is less than 180 lux for pre-bedtime activities in the evening, like reading. This will allow activity but still let your body prepare for sleep. After you go to bed, however, your bedroom should be dark, with a lux reading of no higher than 5. You can download light reading apps on your smartphone to test places around your home for light quality and intensity.
Since most of us don’t take the amount of light throughout different times of day into account when designing our living space, it’s probably a good idea to do some light tidying up or reassessing the lighting in our living space so that it doesn’t impede on our natural rhythms. Doing so will not only help us sleep better but perform better during the day. Now that you know what to look for, you can make your home just a little bit more lux-urious, and get a deep, restful night’s sleep.
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