Light exposure is the number one thing that regulates our sleep/wake cycle. When exposed to lights (especially direct sunlight) a cascade of hormones and chemical messengers (cortisol & serotonin) flood our body, triggering us to be awake and alert. On the other hand, darkness triggers the release of melatonin, our sleepy hormone. Timing the amount and type of light exposure you get during the day can be very beneficial to your sleep.
Upon waking, expose yourself to bright light within the first 10 minutes of waking. This can be quite tricky in the winter months when the sun doesn’t rise until well after our wake times. In these dark months, I get a little help from the following products. First, I recommend using a dawn simulating alarm clock (HATCH RESTORE, HOMELABS ). These amazing clocks gently illuminate the room, simulating a sunrise. The change in light level helps trigger the release of cortisol / serotonin.
Sometimes after waking, use a light therapy box (Verilux). Maybe while enjoying breakfast, getting ready in the bathroom, or when checking your emails once you are at the office. The box should be about 24 inches from your face. Don’t look directly into the light. Rather, have it on while you are completing another task. Try to use it for 20-30 minutes.
Noon: Nothing compares to the direct exposure you get from the sun, so anytime you can get outside for some direct sunlight, without risking frostbite, do so! And skip the sunglasses. A quick walk around the block at lunch can really help your serotonin production. Most of us know that serotonin is one of the“feel-good” neurotransmitters that boost our mood, but we often forget that it is also a building block needed for melatonin production. Sunlight = Serotonin = Melatonin = Great Sleep!
After you have had a full day of proper sunlight exposure, it’s time to focus on decreasing the light exposure at night so melatonin can kick in and do its magic. It’s important to understand that the brightness and color of your light sources make a difference. Red and yellow hues are more calming to the brain, whereas blue, green, and bright white lights are more stimulating and will trick your brain into thinking that it is high noon and suppresses melatonin.
- After dinner creates a “Happy Hour” effect by dimming the bright, LED, overhead lights. Try replacing lamps with blue light blocking light bulbs or even switching the color to a warm light rather than bright white.
- Limit screen time 2-3 hours before bed. Cutting out the blue light from TVs, computers, phones, and tablets will make a huge difference in your melatonin levels. If you are unable to cut screens that close to bedtime, wear blue light-blocking glasses. Please be aware of the difference between day vs night blue light-blocking glasses. The orange lensed glasses block a higher percentage of blue light. (SWANWICK)