Some people prefer sleeping with their light on, while others can’t fall asleep until it’s switched off. This gets complicated if you’re not the only one in the bedroom, and your sleeping partner happens to have a different preference.
What most people fail to realize is that light plays a big part in ensuring that you get a good night’s sleep. If you understand this, the debate about whether to keep lights on or off shouldn’t be so hard to settle.
Meet melatonin. Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone that can be controlled by exposure to light. It’s an important hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, controlling your feelings of being sleepy and awake. Yes, it’s all about the hormones.
Say for instance it’s dark. No light enters your eyes, and your brain perceives that as nighttime. It then secretes more melatonin, which in turn makes you feel sleepy. Once you are exposed to light, it secretes less melatonin and wakes you up, keeping you alert for the rest of the day. This is your body’s natural circadian rhythm, and it’s something you can regulate – or disrupt – by light exposure.
As wonderful as this sleep-wake cycle sounds, it can easily be disrupted especially in modern times – when light is readily available. Even if it’s nighttime, you can ‘trick’ your brain through light exposure and confuse your rhythm altogether.
Thus, it’s best to keep the lights down and stay away from the television, computer, and all other devices with a backlight. As much as possible, try to keep away from these lit devices hours before your bedtime, and minimize all other light sources in your room as well.
If you’re not comfortable with turning off all the lights just yet, you can get a lamp with a softer light to set the mood for sleeping, but try to keep it down as much as you can.
The Dangers of the Blue Light
Whether that’s harsh or soft, exposure to any kind of light will automatically suppress melatonin secretion. However, exposure to blue light, especially at night, tends to be more powerful.
‘Blue light’ is the light typically emitted by gadgets or devices that people use before going to bed. Whether it’s reading an e-book, messaging loved ones, or scrolling through one’s social media feed, using devices while you’re waiting to fall asleep is not at all uncommon. In fact, many of us are guilty of it.
The bad news is, many scientists have been warning against the use of these light-emitting devices, because the light emitted is ‘short-wavelength-enriched’, with a higher concentration of blue light compared to natural light or any other wavelength. Blue light affects the sleep-inducing melatonin the most, so you’re not really helping your body clock.
There are ways to lessen the impact, like lowering the brightness for instance. However, if you really want a good night’s rest, it’s best if you just forget about your gadgets altogether – at least until the sun rises.
How You Can Use Light to Your Benefit
As powerful as light is in preventing you from sleeping, it can also help boost your ability to sleep at night. That’s if you use it properly. Remember that light is what controls your circadian rhythm or sleep-wake cycle, so if you take full control of it, you can use it to your benefit.
Below are some ways to ensure that light is on your side:
During the day, go all out.
When it’s daytime, expose yourself to as much bright light as you can. Go out, feel the sunshine, live your life. Don’t be a hermit and hide under your covers. This is a sure way to boost your mood and keep your alert and awake during the day. By doing so, you’re also helping boost your ability to sleep during nighttime.
Use the right night lights.
This is not to say that as soon as the night sets in, it should be lights off right away. For your night light, make sure you use something less overpowering, such as dim red lights. This has the least power to suppress your melatonin and affect your circadian rhythm, so it’s what you should use as your bedside light. Customize the lighting of your home so that you also have dim lights that are less glaring and more comforting.
Protect your eyes from bright screens.
If you can, you should stop looking at your electronic devices at least two to three hours before sleeping, to ensure that you get a good night’s rest. But if you really have to use electronic devices during the night, you should look into the possibility of wearing glasses that block this harmful light or even a nifty app that can filter out this blue wavelength.