How light affects your sleep
I’ve written before about how the blue light from our TVs, iPads and mobiles can contribute to sleep issues. I’ve been reading more about that lately and wanted to share some of this with you.
The truth is that all artificial lighting can affect our sleep levels. Electric lighting is such a commonplace part of our lives that it’s hard to imagine it might be causing any sort of problem for us but actually it is probably the one modern invention that has had the largest impact on our sleep. If you think about the days when there was no electric light, peoples lives were largely governed by the rising and setting of the sun. On cold Winter nights when it was dark by 5pm, people didn’t sit up until 10 or 11 playing video games – or even reading a book. They had a candle or lamp to allow them to do the basics, and then off they went to bed.
Our circadian rhythms are governed by the rising and setting of the sun… except, electric light confuses our circadian rhythms. Now that we can have our environment as light as day (or lighter!) twenty four hours a day, is it any wonder the delicate natural balance of our bodies has been knocked off balance? Even when we switch the lights off at bed time, there is often light from the street lights outside, and we’ve spent our entire evening bathing in artificial light. Then there is the LED alarm clock on the bedside table, the stand-by light of the TV in the corner, your mobile screen lighting up periodically throughout the night… do you see what I mean?
Between the years 1950 and 2000, our use of artificial light has quadrupled – and our sleep problems have followed the same trajectory. Artificial light allows us to stay up later, and then we just use caffeine in the morning to perk ourselves up and make up for the missed hours. Over time, our natural balance goes completely AWOL, and we’re left unable to either sleep or wake up properly.
The University of Colorado did a study and found that camping in nature with no artificial light can help to “reset” our systems. One week camping with only a campfire for light after dark can help our circadian rhythms return to their natural balance.
It’s also worth noting that those clever new LED energy saving light bulbs are actually serving to confound the problem. Even 15 or 20 years ago, the lights we had in our homes were a lot less bright. These days, our bulbs are super bright, and giving out that pesky blue light – the same as we get from our TV screens and mobiles. Blue light stimulates our brains and wakes us up, whereas more orange, red light is less likely to stimulate wakefulness.
If you can’t bear the thought of a week in a tent, you could try replacing your energy saving light bulbs with red or orange tinted bulbs – at least in the bedroom and bathroom. If you can’t change your bathroom light source, try using small, battery-operated lamps or maybe even candles if you can position them safely. Using this more gentle light in the evenings may well make the difference you need, to get a good night’s sleep!