Why does late-night exposure to blue light waves from screens make it harder to fall asleep?
Our brains are still wired to the same animal instincts and rhythms that keep us connected to the natural world, and this includes our relationship to sunlight. As the sun goes down, the brain’s pineal gland produces the neurohormone melatonin, which slows and cools the body down, ready for sleep.
Harsh, short, blue light waves from TVs, computers and mobile tech all suppress melatonin production. Our body forgets what it feels like to be naturally tired, making it more likely that we stay awake for longer and fall asleep through exhaustion.
How can I improve my sleep?
1) In your phone’s settings, turn on the blue-light screen filter and wear blue-light filter spectacles for watching TV a couple of hours before bedtime. We produce melatonin gradually over two to three hours, so respect this natural process.
2) Install a smart lighting system in your home. Controllable from your phone, smart lighting changes and softens colour tone, while gradually dimming throughout the evening. Imagine returning home late after a long and stressful day and finding your home is sleep-ready and relaxing, encouraging you gently towards an early night.
3) Look into red-light therapy. Results from a recent Chinese study show that exposure to regular red-light therapy before bed not only speeds skin-cell regeneration while the body rests, but also increases the production of melatonin to help sleep come more easily. Red-light therapy devices include light-emitting diodes and lasers that emit wavelengths between 610 and 700 nanometres.
Our body-clock biology
All humans have a master biological clock that measures time in our brain, as well as a series of smaller clocks located throughout our bodies.
For most adults, the biggest dip in energy happens in the middle of the night somewhere between 2am and 4am, when we’re usually fast asleep, and around 1pm to 3pm, when we can suddenly hit a wall of tiredness.
Everyone’s circadian rhythm is slightly different, falling in to different classifications called chronotypes. An extreme lark might be waking up just around the time that an extreme owl is falling asleep. Our circadian rhythm works best when we have regular sleep habits, like going to bed at night and waking up in the morning around the same times from day to day.
Want to know more about chronotypes? Try reading The Power of When by Michael Breus:
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