Understanding How Exposure to Light at Night Impacts Sleep

Many of us have become so accustomed to artificial light that we’ve forgotten how it can impact our sleep habits. While we do understand that attempting to sleep with an overhead light shining brightly is a problem, we tend to overlook smaller sources of light that can make it harder to get to sleep and stay that way for eight hours. Here are some of the reasons why it makes sense to get rid of all sources of light before we retire for the evening. 

Light and the Body’s Natural Rhythm

Human beings are hard wired with instincts when it comes to sleep. The natural rhythm of our bodies compels us to wake up when the sun rises and begin to feel drowsy when night comes. to some extent, we keep those instincts at bay with the use of artificial light. That’s fine up to a point, but it can become an issue when we want to get some sleep. 

Exposure to light effectively tricks the body into assuming it’s time to be up and active. For a time after we turn off the television or decide to stop reading or playing games on a tablet in bed, our bodies go through a process of reverting to that instinct to settle down when we kill the lights. Over time, that becomes harder to do. The result is needing more time to nod off, which in turn means less time to achieve the deep sleep our minds and bodies need to prepare for the coming day. 

Interfering with Melatonin Production

Light also triggers our bodies that it’s not time to begin producing melatonin in quantities sufficient to get us to sleep. Since melatonin does play such an important role in making sure we sleep soundly, it’s no wonder we find it harder to settle down, relax our minds, and drift away. 

Choosing to allow some extra time to relax in a darkened room will pay off. That means making sure the blinds and drapes are sufficient to block outside light. It also means not watching television in bed for at least a half-hour before retiring. Even checking email on a hand-held device prior to slipping into bed could delay the production of melatonin. Changing some of the habits may of use have developed over the years will mean sleeping more soundly and feeling more refreshed in the morning. 

Even a Little Light Can Trigger Problems

Even with most of the light effectively blocked, a small amount can interfere with sleep. That means if there is a sliver of light coming through one side of the drapes, staying asleep will be more difficult. 

Even something like a night light can cause problems. Fortunately, choosing to install a red bulb in the night light will cast a lower level of light, but still provide enough illumination to get out of bed and to the bathroom without stubbing your toe. 

If you are experiencing sleep problems, it’s time to call your doctor and schedule a complete physical. Many health issues are manifested by an inability to get to sleep combined with snoring once you do nod off. If there is a physical matter that is interfering with your sleep, treating the condition will mean resting comfortably at night again. When your doctor does not find a reason for your poor sleep, light exposure prior to and during the attempt to sleep is the likely culprit. Make some changes in your habits and sleep will not be so elusive.


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