House lights, TV, computers, cell phones… Wonder why nobody seemed to complain about insomnia before Edison invented the light bulb in the late 1800s? Wonder why, when scientists had people live in a cave for a while (ahh, the 60s…), they fell asleep about every 24-25 hours? It’s the Circadian Rhythm (“circa” = about, “dian”=day). Our Circadian Rhythm makes us more alert in the morning and more sleepy in the evening, regardless of how much or how little sleep we obtained the night before. Artificial light levels in the evening affect our Circadian Rhythm, mainly by delaying the time when we feel sleepy at night. Conversely, bright light in the morning shuts down melatonin production and gets us in wake mode.
So what might you do? If you have trouble getting to sleep, start by getting some light each morning soon after you get up – turn on some house lights, linger for a couple minutes getting the paper in the morning, check your flowers, smile at your sleepy neighbors outside, etc. Try sitting by a south or east-facing window while you have breakfast for more natural light. Then at the end of the day, start dimming those room lights early if possible. And for Pete’s sake, kill the TV and other electronic screens well before bedtime! Lots of studies have shown that they emit high levels of light in the blue spectrum, and blue light seems to affect our Circadian Rhythm more than other types of light.
Quiet, dark, cool and comfortable is the goal. Noises can wake us up (obviously), especially erratic noises. Simple ear plugs or the constant low-pitch hum of a small room fan can be easy solutions to the things that go bump in the night. Light in the bedroom? Light can affect us even with our eyes closed, especially as we age and our skin (eyelids) become thinner. Consider darker window shades or an eye mask. Too hot? Take a cool shower and consider splurging for the AC at night. Too cold? Try warmer blankets and wearing socks. Hate your mattress? Spend an afternoon sleeping around town at the mattress stores to find a good one. Trust me, they’ll let you nap as long as you want! Cats wandering around your room at night? Think laundry room. Dogs seem to be less nocturnal, and Otis hangs out with us just fine.
Make your “bed” room your “sleep” room!
I’d love to hear about your light strategies! And what efforts have you made to turn your bedroom into your sleep room?