During the longer days of summer, it can be difficult to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Those extended hours of daylight can keep us awake and disrupt sleep—but the light from all the electronic devices in our lives can also share the blame.
How light affects your brain
Light exposure helps regulate your circadian rhythm, which is responsible for your sleep-wake cycle. Prior to widespread use of artificial lighting, our sleep and wake times were naturally regulated by sunlight. Now, with artificial light in almost universal use in the U.S., our sleep patterns have become more independent of the sun.
Artificial light at night, particularly the blue light emitted from electronics, can disrupt sleep patterns and lead to effects that range from poor sleep to a possible tie with increased risk of obesity, breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other conditions, according to Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine.
Darkness = better sleep
Creating a light-free environment at night is the first step to getting a good night’s sleep. Put up heavy curtains over your bedroom windows and cover any cracks in doors and windows that let light through to ensure your room is as dark as possible. The darker the room, the less your sleep will be disrupted. Another benefit is if you have created a light-free environment, morning light will not wake you up before you are ready.
Shut down devices
Melatonin is a primary regulator of circadian rhythm; when it is released it tells the body to prepare for sleep. All light suppresses melatonin production, but blue light from certain electronics suppresses it the most, thereby preventing your body from receiving the signal that it is time to go to sleep, according to a 2015 study in Journal of Biological Rhythms. Blue light is beneficial during the day as it stimulates us to be awake and attentive, but negative at night for those very same reasons.
You should turn off or remove from your room devices that emit light—computers, smartphones, light-up alarm clocks, tablets and televisions. (E-book reading devices may be less of an issue as they emit little or no blue light. That being said, all light can be disruptive, so some people can tolerate their light and some cannot.) Eliminating sources of blue light one to two hours before bed is an essential step to allowing your body to begin to prepare for sleep.
Instituting a no-screen-time rule an hour or two before you want to go to bed is an important step toward promoting better sleep. If you must be on your computer right before bedtime, use a program like f.lux, which will reduce the blue light emitted from your screen.
Sleep is important for good health, mood and energy. Taking these steps toward better sleep can have dramatic effects on how you feel during the day.
Shawnti Rockwell, N.D., is a resident at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health, and sees patients there. She has particular interests in family medicine, gastrointestinal health, pediatrics, women’s health and diabetes.