Have you ever experienced sleeping with the lights or the television on? Or have you worked in ungodly hours, staring directly at your computer screen?
One of the most important factors in sleep regulation is our biological clock’s contact or visibility to light and darkness. Exposure to it in extended periods of time may not only hinder you from getting a good night’s sleep, but may have negative effects in your overall health as well.
In this chapter, we will discuss the elements of good sleep – how light can affect it, ways on how to improve it, as well as the benefits that come with it.
How Light Affects Sleep
Most living creatures, including humans, posses a built-in body clock that mimics natural day and night cycles.
Whenever we are exposed to light, this system automatically stimulates nerve pathways directly from the eyes towards a variety of regions in the brain that are responsible for manipulating hormones, regulating body temperature, along with many other functions that contribute in making us feel drowsy or wide awake.
Exposure to a great amount of it before going to sleep may actually prevent your body from getting the rest it deserves. A study revealed that our exposure to artificial light cycles significantly impacts our health and increases the risk of developing depressive symptoms. Therefore, controlling the quantity of light you are exposed to everyday is one good approach in maintaining your natural circadian rhythm.
Effects of Light on Sleep-Wake Cycles
According to sleep researcher and expert Christopher Drake, Ph.D., all of the body’s regular, standard rhythms, including the sleep-wake cycle, are linked to light exposure.
In his published work in Chronobiology International, he explored the variations when dealing with these patterns in night shift workers – all of whom in the brink of losing their battles of sleeping midday.
Our bodies naturally secrete a soporific, or sleep-inducing hormone called melatonin to prepare and condition us for sleep. However, his studies, together with many others, have proved that light actually suppresses the compound’s release, which can make us feel more awake.
Exposure to bright light, especially in the middle of the night, can urge our sleep-wake cycle to decrease by up to half an hour, possibly even longer. This causes us to feel sleepy during the day, or at times when we need to be productive. On the other hand, contact with light in the early morning advances this cycle, and can lead to drowsiness earlier on in the evening – enhancing and regulating the normal sleep-wake cycle.
Risks and Dangers of Poor Sleep
People who have irregular sleeping patterns and are not exposed to enough natural sunlight may suffer from a number of sleep disorders, and have long-lasting, negative effects in their overall health, including:
A number of sleeping disorders are heavily associated with the risk of depression.
In a study conducted on rodents, the presence of dim lighting, such as nightlights, at night revealed that it could increase physiological modifications, which may then lead to depressive symptoms Even a small amount of light in the evening has provoked changes in behavior and brain chemicals in hamsters, similar to depression.
Light at night, commonly referred to as LAN, is one significant risk factor with regards to developing breast cancer, basing on researchers who assessed data from the 1,679 women and additionally publicized their conclusions in the Chronobiology International journal.
• Reproductive Health
Female employees who have to work late at night are more prone to reproductive problems like delayed menstruation. The said research engaged 71,077 ladies who joined in the Nurses’ Health Study II.
As outlined by research released in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, dim light during the nighttime is likely to be rebuilding some other physical rhythms that include eating schedules. Researchers exhibited mice towards dim light at night beyond eight weeks and thus determined that the mice accumulated more weight as compared to those not getting nighttime lighting.
Face the Dark: Tips on How to Achieve Good Sleep
Achieving good sleep in as early as infantry to childhood is especially crucial, as these greatly affect both mental and physical growth. Babies develop their circadian rhythms six weeks right after birth, and already have a standard sleep-wake cycle by the time they reach three to six months of age.
Unfortunately, with the advanced technologies rising in every corner, people tend to rely on their gadgets, to the point that they forego sleep in order to use them in prolonged periods of time.
Researches have proven that excessive exposure to artificial light, especially at night, negatively affects the quality and amount of sleep we get – often increasing the likelihood of sleep disorders or other health issues.
To help keep your circadian rhythm on track, here are a few tips on how to get a good night’s sleep:
• Find time to expose yourself to enough sunlight during the day. This will regulate your body clock and will help you sleep better at night. Wear a hat, sun visor, or anything of the like to protect yourself from getting too much.
• Seek professional help or advice if you have fear in sleeping in the dark. Not only will they help you get over your phobia, but will also enhance your sleep and health in the long run.
• When you go to sleep at night, make sure your bedroom or sleeping area is dark. Use window curtains, drapes, or an eye mask to help eliminate any light that may come through.
• For those who work late or in night shifts, wearing dark or shaded glasses on your way home is a great alternative to limit your exposure to light before going to bed.
• Minimize use of computers, cellphones, televisions, or any other electronic gadgets that emit artificial light at night as these impede good sleep.