How to Use Light to Improve Your Sleep
Today we will share with you a very simple strategy that you can employ to get better sleep — and that is to be mindful of your light exposure.
That would be your exposure to sunlight as well as artificial light.
Our Circadian Rhythm
Light helps support our circadian rhythm. Our circadian rhythm is our 24-hr body clock that regulates things like our sleep, our mood, our digestion, and our hunger. This 24-hr clock runs pretty much on a consistent basis — however, it is influenced by light exposure.
Our bodies want to make sure that we're awake, alert, and most productive during the day when there's light and that we're sleeping when there is an absence of light. Obviously, we can't be productive at night when we need that time to restore and refresh. So it's very important that you're getting light exposure at the right times and that you avoid light, in the evening.
Our eyes, light, and sleep
Our eyes have little neurons in them that are actually part of our brain and these neurons collect data from light and the data that these neurons collect are
- The angle in which the light is hitting our eyes as well as
- The ratio of blue + green and yellow + red light
At sunrise when we're supposed to wake up, our body is expecting that the light is going to reach our eyes at about a 45° angle and that there are going to be more blue and green rays. And when the little neurons in our eyes collect this information, it sends a signal to our adrenals to produce cortisol (the alert hormone) and suppress melatonin (the sleepy hormone). Our eyes also expect to collect information around sunset. Again, the data points that these neurons are looking for would be that the sun is hitting again at a 45° angle, but instead of blue and green rays, there should be more red and orange. When our eyes collect this information, it sends a signal to our adrenals to suppress cortisol and sends a signal to our pineal gland to produce melatonin.
Modern Lifestyle, light, and sleep
Unfortunately with our modern lifestyle, we are not getting the correct signals at the correct time. Especially before the pandemic, when we would wake up in the morning, we would commute to work. Now the majority of us are working from home, so our eyes are not collecting data from the morning sun. That could be problematic because our body depends on that signal to kickstart our daytime circadian rhythm and also to program the release of melatonin 13 hours later. In addition, we're spending more time in front of screens in the evening.
The problem with screens like our iPhones, tablets, TV, is that they emit blue and green light. So, if we're getting that type of light exposure in the evening, that's going to be confusing to our bodies. Our bodies are going to think that it's daytime and are going to want to produce cortisol instead of melatonin.
No need to worry! You are not doomed to have a backward circadian rhythm! There are three simple things that you can do on a daily basis to better support the appropriate ebb and flow of cortisol and melatonin.
Ebb and Flow of cortisol and melatonin
1) Get outside for 2-10 minutes before 10 am, as well as around sunset
Make sure you're not wearing your sunglasses because if you do, it's going to filter the light. Also, make sure you're actually going outside instead of just looking out the window because if you're just depending on the light from your window, it can take 50-100x longer for your eyes to collect the correct data to trigger the circadian response.
By going out for 2-10 minutes before 10 am in the morning, it’s going to tell your body to start releasing cortisol and suppress melatonin. And as I explained before, to also produce melatonin about 13 hours later. And then if you go outside again sometime around sunset, that is going to tell your body to start winding down to start suppressing cortisol and producing melatonin instead. I know it sounds a little daunting but it really isn't. I actually do this every morning and also around sunset. The way I incorporate it into my routine and after I drop the kids off at school, I take a quick walk around the block, and then around sunset, I take my dog for a walk again.
2) If you're going to be exposed to a screen at night, wear blue blocker glasses
Let's face it, who doesn't have screen time at night? We all love to binge Netflix, watch YouTube videos on our iPads, and scroll Instagram on our iPhones — so if you are one of the majority, I want you to make sure you're wearing blue blocker glasses. Make sure they block 95% of the blue light. A good indication that they do that is they'll have amber lenses. (I know they may not be as cute as the blue blockers with clear lenses but they're going to be a lot more effective!)
3) Stay off your screens at least 30-60 minutes before bedtime
Turn off the overhead lights, and use a lamp or a candle instead for your bedtime routine. That way, we can make sure that your body is producing as much melatonin as possible right before you hit the sack.
I hope that these tips have helped. They're very easy, simple strategies that you can incorporate into your daily routine to ensure that you're supporting your circadian rhythm appropriately. That way you can get the best night of sleep so that you can be your best self.
If you're still having issues sleeping, please don't hesitate to schedule a 30-minute discovery call with Kelly Murray on our team site. She can explain how we work here at Sleep Like A Boss to uncover those hidden stressors that are in need of healing so that you can get back to sleep once and for all.
This blog post was created by our sleep coach Kelly Murray.