We all know that sound, adequate and regular sleep does a body, and mind, good. Research connects poor sleep with memory problems, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and other health problems.
If you struggle with getting enough sleep, or sleeping well, the culprit could be too much light. Scientists examined the sleep habits of nearly 16,000 people for eight years and found that nighttime lighting significantly affects sleep. Residents of brightly lit neighborhoods were more likely to sleep less than six hours and to be dissatisfied with the quality or quantity of their sleep. People exposed to more light at night also reported fatigue more often, slept less, and were more likely to wake up confused and experience impaired functioning.
This makes sense, because light triggers a process in our brains that says, in effect, “Wake up!” Here’s how: light passes through our eyes and down the optic nerve to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, where it triggers a decrease in production of melatonin. This hormone signals your body to sleep, so less melatonin makes it harder to sleep.
Taking steps to minimize light where you sleep helps avoid that chain reaction. You can:
- Unplug or cover up sources of light in the bedroom, such as televisions (that little ‘on’ light shines brighter than you think!) and electronic devices.
- Send your reading-in-the-bed spouse to another room.
- Use the dimmest nightlight you can find if you need one for nocturnal trips to the bathroom. Place it where it isn’t directly visible from your bed.
To minimize light from outside sources:
- Install room-darkening shades.
- If you have security lighting outside your bedroom, switch to a motion-detected fixture.
- As a last resort, use a sleep mask to block out light.
Other things you can do to sleep better include:
- Keep a regular daily schedule.
- Get plenty of natural light exposure during the day.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening.
- Change the time you take any medications that may affect sleep.