How to sleep better : Control your exposure to light
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone controlled by light exposure that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Your brain secretes more melatonin when it’s dark—making you sleepy—and less when it’s light—making you more alert. However, many aspects of modern life can alter your body’s natural production of melatonin and shift your circadian rhythm.Spending long days in an office away from natural light, for example, can impact your daytime wakefulness and make your brain sleepy. While bright lights at night—especially from exposure to energy-efficient LED lights and TV and computer screens—can make your body think that it’s time to wake up. Here’s what you can do to keep your hormones and sleep-wake cycle on track.
During the day:
- Expose yourself to bright sunlight in the morning. The closer to the time you get up, the better. Have your coffee outside, for example, or eat breakfast by a sunny window. Skip the sunglasses! The light on your face will help you wake up and feel more alert.
- Spend more time outside during daylight. Try to take your work breaks outside in sunlight, exercise outside, or walk your dog during the day instead of at night.
- Let as much natural light into your home or workspace as possible. Keep curtains and blinds open during the day, and try to move your desk closer to the window.
- If necessary, use a light therapy box. A light therapy box simulates sunshine and can be especially useful during short winter days when there’s limited daylight.
- Avoid bright screens within 2 hours of your bedtime. All nighttime light can interfere with sleep and your body’s rhythms, but the blue light emitted by electronics is especially disruptive. This includes the screen on your phone, tablet, computer, or TV. You can minimize the impact by using devices with smaller screens, turning the brightness down, or using light-altering software such as f.lux that adjusts the color of your display.
- Say no to late-night television. Many people use the television to wind down at the end of the day, but this can backfire. Not only does the light suppress melatonin, but many programs are stimulating rather than relaxing. Try listening to music or audio books instead. If your favorite TV show is on late at night, record it for viewing earlier in the day.
- Be smart about nighttime reading. Not all e-readers are created equal. Devices that are backlit, such as the Kindle Fire or the iPad, are more disruptive than those that are illuminated from the front, such as the Kindle Paperwhite or Nook GlowLight. Other smart options include e-ink readers that don’t have their own light source and good old-fashioned books.
- When it’s time to sleep, make sure the room is dark. The darker it is, the better you’ll sleep. Use heavy curtains or shades to block light from windows, or try a sleep mask to cover your eyes. Also consider covering up or moving any electronics that emit light. Even the red numbers on a digital clock can disrupt sleep.
- Keep the lights down if you get up during the night. If you need to get up during the night, avoid turning on the lights if possible. If you need some light to move around safely, try installing a dim nightlight in the hall or bathroom or using a small flashlight. This will make it easier for you to fall back to sleep.