Are you struggling to get a good night’s rest? Well, the right amount of light before bed may be just what you need to help catch more ZZZs.
Have you heard those countless reports that tell us to avoid screen time right before bed? The ones that say not to use your mobile phone or iPad before you drift off? Yet we all can’t help ourselves. We love our technology and we bring it everywhere we go, including into the sheets at night, even though we’re repeatedly told it’s a bad habit.
Have you ever wondered why? It’s because light has a significant impact on how we sleep. Light causes an instinctual trigger on the human body and mind, stimulating the state of wakefulness. So while we are lying there with our faces aglow, checking our Facebook feed or touching up our last Instagram photo before nodding off, we are actually sabotaging our ability to obtain a fulfilling and healthy night’s sleep.
Light’s role in our sleep patterns
We, as mammals, are not nocturnal. We have evolved to be active during the day and to rest at night. As a result, exposure to light activates alertness and increases energy levels because, in the natural world, light occurs during the daytime. The problem is, with technology, we now have access to artificial light, and its exposure late into the evening can cause significant difficulties in triggering our bodies to reach the correct sleep phase.
Darkness and melatonin
Darkness is an essential condition for sleep. When the eyes detect a reducing amount of light at the end of the day, the brain produces a hormone known as Melatonin which signals the body that it is time to rest. This initiates the body’s physiological preparations for sleep, causing muscles to relax, body temperature to drop and the active internal functions to shut down, ready for maximum relaxation and repair throughout the night. In normal conditions, after the sun sets and darkness falls, Melatonin levels naturally rise into the evening and throughout the night, before subsiding after the sun rises again and during the day.
However, artificial sources of light exposure after sundown inhibits the natural production of Melatonin, which can corrupt this internal biological mechanism (often referred to as a ‘sleep clock’), thus interfering with both the quantity and quality of sleep you receive.
5 ways to improve your sleep with light
Ultimately, managing your light exposure in your home and especially in your bedroom at night time is essential in creating a conducive sleeping environment. For example:
- Ensure your curtains are fully drawn and thick enough to block unwanted light such as street lighting or early morning rays.
- Gradually decrease the lights more and more as you get closes to bed, to maximise your body’s preparation for sleep and production of Melatonin.
- Commit to a regular and consistent ‘lights out’ time. This will help restore your body's sleep clock.
- If you must use your phone after you've gone to bed, such as a night light to stumble to the bathroom or check on the children, set it to ‘blue light filter’ or ‘night mode’ mode which softens your exposure.
- There are also products available, such as the university developed Re-Timer product, which can help to adjust the light your eyes absorb in preparation for sleep. More information about this below
How the Re-Timer can help you
 The Huffington Post. “Australia, We Have A Sleep Deprivation Problem.” 7 February, 2017. https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2017/02/07/australia-we-have-a-sleep-deprivation-problem_a_21708513/