Sleep is a foundational aspect of our health, but most of us are exhibiting some form or another of disturbed or disordered sleep. Poor sleep hygiene contributes to a roster of health problems- from insulin resistance to depression and heart health, and it also has the immediate effect of dampening our cognitive abilities. Without a steady, reliable sleep cycle, we disrupt the circadian rhythms of our bodies, which govern everything from our moods to our metabolism and hormone production- leading to a cascade of health issues over time.
How Light Exposure Affects Your Sleep Schedule and Quality
While we may chastise ourselves for poor habits, the truth is that our environment is working against us. We’re not just talking about early start times for work- the lighting in our homes is doing plenty of heavy lifting when it comes to disrupting our natural sleep patterns.
All of our body processes are ruled by our circadian rhythm– a sort of internal body clock that is governed primarily by light exposure. Way back before artificial light, we rose and slept according to the progress of the sun- and to this day, our circadian rhythm remains tied directly to light exposure.
“Blue” light (i.e., light wavelengths between about 450 and 495 nanometers), like daylight, kicks off a whole host of processes- most importantly that of the production of cortisol, the ‘wakeful’ stress hormone that makes us feel alert and focused (it also kickstarts our digestion and metabolism).
As the sun sets, those wavelengths change to that of “red” light- with wavelengths around 620 to 750 nm- and that stimulates the production of melatonin- the hormone that makes us feel sleepy, and which slows down body processes as we prepare for rest.
Artificial Light: Disrupting Our Natural Rhythms
So why do we all have such screwy sleep patterns? Why do so many people suffer from insomnia or otherwise disturbed sleep?
Artificial light is almost entirely of the blue wavelength variety, and since the advent of artificial lighting, we’ve been receiving unnaturally high amounts of this light- unnaturally late in the day. Think of all the times you’ve sat in bed on your phone, and then been unable to fall asleep- or how it’s hard to settle into sleep after watching TV all night. Electronics are one big source of late-in-the-day blue light, but they aren’t alone- most of the lighting in our homes is of the blue variety, too.
Another compounding factor, especially for people who live in northern climes, is that we often wake before the sun. Everyone is familiar with how sluggish they feel waking up for work at 6 am in January- you can thank a lack of wakeful blue light for that.
Inappropriate light exposure creates a feedback loop in our circadian rhythm- too much blue light keeps us up, makes us nervous and excitable, which prevents us from winding down and sleeping, with means we enter into a sort of excessive cortisol loop over time, as we struggle to manage chronic sleep deprivation, which in turn throws our circadian rhythms off even more- contributing to weight gain, mood disorders, and a host of other health problems.
Manage Your Sleep Routine with Lighting Solutions
Short of running off into the woods and living life like you’re in Little House on the Prairie, there’s not much you can do in today’s world to peg your circadian rhythm to the sun. The good news is that through various artificial lighting solutions, you can mimic the sun’s influence on your circadian rhythm with some fidelity- and achieve substantial sleep and health gains in the process.
Lighting for Waking
Let’s start with your waking routine. Notice how we touched on the difficulty of waking up in a dark environment? While you can help ameliorate this with gadgets like automatic blind openers (assuming your bedroom gets plenty of natural light through your windows), you can also use artificial lighting options, like the SkyView Wellness lamp. You can even invest in light ‘alarm clocks’, which slowly awaken you with increasingly bright blue light. This blue light exposure will stimulate the production of the hormone cortisol, and wake you up much more effectively than a blaring alarm clock.
Lighting for Productivity
So you’re up, but are you productive? Lighting plays a big part in our continued wakefulness and productivity. While cortisol wakes you up, it also stimulates alertness and focus- making it a big help when it comes to working effectively. One of the best ways to ensure you get enough blue light exposure in your office is to ensure your desk is near a big window with plenty of natural light- or, barring that, that you have artificial lighting in your office that is of the blue wavelength variety. There are many lamps and bulbs which offer this functionality, including the A21.
Lighting for Sleep
Now it all comes full circle. All of the previous lighting is in fact part of ensuring you have a good night’s sleep- since the wakeful part of our sleep cycle is an important part of keeping our sleep schedule regulated.
When it’s actually time to sleep, though, you’re going to want to limit your blue light exposure. This means cutting down your exposure to electronics (or mitigating them with screen dimmers) a good hour or two before you sleep, and for the truly dedicated, investing in dimmable bulbs- like the BR30 – that will provide red wavelength light in your bedroom or other spots you hang out in just before sleep.
Another top tip- make sure you use blackout curtains in your bedroom. The darker (and cooler) your bedroom, the less disturbed your sleep will be.
Conclusion: Lighting for Sleep is Possible
Disordered sleeping can be substantially improved by the above recommendations- and you can even apply just some of them (blackout curtains, screen dimmers), and see a notable improvement. The key to healthy sleep- and improved health in general- lies in a sleep/wakefulness routine informed by light exposure. After all, that’s what we were built for!
How does maintaining blue light exposure help your sleep hygiene? How does it hurt it?
Blue light exposure earl in the morning helps you wake up- it stimulates the production of cortisol. Early wakefulness ensures your circadian rhythm stays on track to wind down at night. However, if you expose yourself to blue light before sleep (via TV, tablet, phone or otherwise), you’ll spike cortisol production when your body should be producing the sleep hormone- melatonin.
How does red light help you fall asleep?
Red spectrum light helps stimulate the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy, in your body.
How does light exposure influence our sleep patterns?
Light exposure affects our sleep in the above ways- blue light induces cortisol production, alertness, energy and wakefulness- red light boosts melatonin production, causing relaxation and sleepiness.