It’s all light: a guide to getting better sleep with lighting

woman sleeping peacefully in the dark in her bed.
A good night’s rest can enhance your mental and physical state.

Getting better sleep. We all know that we need it, but do you know exactly why? Sleep is an altered state of consciousness in which we have minimal interactions with our surroundings and environmental stimuli. It might seem counter-intuitive, but our brains are quite active during sleep, carrying out a wide range of crucial functions.

These functions are essential to every single process that occurs in your body. This is why sleep has the power to enhance your mental and physical functions, your ability to fight pathogens and disease, and even boost your metabolism. Sleep governs every aspect of human health, and without it, we leave our bodies at risk of developing a host of ailments and chronic diseases.

It is common knowledge that things like caffeine affect our sleep patterns, while healthy foods—especially those containing protein and slow-release carbohydrates—can promote restful sleep at night. Lesser known is the fact that the lighting in your home and your bedroom can significantly affect your ability to get a good night’s rest too.

But how much light is too much light? How dark should our bedrooms be to promote optimal sleep every night? When should we be turning our lights off and settling in for the evening? This blog will help to answer these questions and more.

1. The Importance of Darkness in Getting Better Sleep

There is simply no way around it. Exposure to light at night disrupts your circadian rhythms and thus, your sleep patterns as well. When your circadian rhythm gets disrupted, you can experience symptoms ranging from fatigue and forgetfulness to anxiety and even depression.

Specialized light therapy can encourage a circadian rhythm reset, which may help improve your sleep and symptoms related to sleeplessness. Many studies have shown the benefits of light therapy for people with depression and sleep disorders. But light therapy should be conducted with the guidance of a professional for best results.

mauve colored blackout curtains covering windows so you can get better sleep.
There are stylish options for blackout curtains to match your décor.

When it comes to optimizing your own sleep environment, your bedroom should be completely dark at night. And ideally, you should not expose yourself to any light even if you do wake during the night. If external light filters in through your windows, you can address this by using blackout curtains and room darkening blinds. These window dressings have the added benefit of keeping your room cool in summer, and insulating it in winter.

If you wake up in the early hours to use your restroom, it is alright to have a small, relatively dim night light in your bedroom to guide you to the door.

2. The Low-Down on Reading Before Bed

Thousands of people nestle into bed each night with a good book in hand. Reading in bed is a relaxing and highly enjoyable activity that can settle your mind after a rushed workday, but there are rules you need to know.

If you suffer from insomnia, reading at night can worsen the condition. If you spend your time in bed reading, watching television, playing mobile games, or browsing social media, you could be creating a psychological association between being in bed and being active. These activities also expose you to large amounts of light, which signals your brain that it is daytime and time to be alert.

You can help to address your insomnia by temporarily postponing your reading in bed. Think of your bedroom as an oasis of calm and keep it just for sleeping until you have corrected your sleeping patterns.

3. Light Levels and Wavelengths

Light levels and wavelengths are also crucial for proper sleep, and there are several aspects of adequate lighting that you should know about.

Higher light levels, measured in lux, or light intensity, suppress your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleeping patterns. Therefore, it is crucial to avoid bright light exposure before bed to maintain your natural sleep cycle.

Young woman looking at the blue light from her iphone screen, preventing her from getting better sleep.
Exposure to blue light can make it difficult to go to sleep.

The wavelengths of light you are exposed to are important too. Shorter wavelengths, also known as ‘blue light’, can suppress melatonin and make it more difficult to fall and stay asleep. Our primary sources of blue light today are the lights emitted by LED lights, our smartphones, tablets, and TVs.

Longer wavelengths of light, or ‘red light’, does not affect melatonin. This means that installing red lights or dim lights in your bedroom and using them at night before you go to bed may promote more restful, high-quality sleep.

4. When to Turn Off the Lights

Everyone has a uniquely individual preference for when they like to go to bed. We all have our own circadian rhythms, and these play a huge role in our night-time routines and preferences.

The simplest way to gauge when you should turn off your lights is to do so when you feel naturally ready to fall asleep. That is the best and simplest signal that it is time for bed.

5. Using a Light Box for Light Therapy

Depending on how severe your sleep issues and circadian rhythm disruptions are, light therapy can take place either in the morning, just after waking, or in the early evening before you begin to feel fatigued.

Light therapy demands the use of a specialized light box that should be placed 16-24 inches away from your face. The light should reach your eyes, but you should not be looking directly at or into the box. The good news is that you are welcome to read, browse the internet, or even watch TV during the therapy sessions.

The most important aspect of light therapy is to expose yourself to the light box for a specific and set amount of time. Your sessions could range from 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the intensity of the light and what your physician recommends. It is important to be consistent, as you may only begin to see improvements within a few days or even weeks.

Get Those Zzzz’s

The quality and intensity of the lighting in your bedroom can make or break your quality of sleep each night.

Following the above tips will ensure that you create the ideal environment for a good night’s rest. Ensure that you have the correct type of mattress for your needs, bedding that keeps you at a comfortable temperature, and pillows that offer adequate support.

With these things in place, a better night’s sleep is almost guaranteed!

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