How Dark Should Your Room Really Be to Sleep?
An impressive machine, the human body is routinely affected by light and darkness: Daylight hours have plenty of power over our brains, naturally signaling to us when it’s time to wake and rest. But modern living has given rise to a slew of unnatural light sources, and while we spend a good portion of our days indoors under the harsh fluorescents of the workplace, our bodies crave natural sunlight. Back in college, professors were always dangling the hope of an outdoors-hosted class in front of us, and we’d do well to invite the tradition into our professional routine. Alas, there is precious little wiggle room for lighting alternatives during the 9-to-5 day. However, one area where we all wield complete control is in the bedroom. A few adjustments to your morning and nighttime routines can help your body sync into its ideal natural rhythm.
If you live in a thriving metropolis, odds are your window is getting plenty of ambient light (and traffic sounds) at all hours of the night, and it’s ever so subtly disrupting your sleep. Snoozing in a cave of pitch-black darkness may seem like a pipe dream, but science suggests it’s something to shoot for. As our bedrooms become increasingly infiltrated by a host of modern conveniences, from reading tablets to iPhone docks, is all the extra gadgetry messing with our health?
Studies show excess light in the bedroom can affect sleep quality, disrupting the body’s natural circadian rhythm. Artificial light, such as that on smartphones and TVs, cues the brain to wake up, thus suppressing the production of melatonin, your highly prized sleep-producing hormone. There’s good news, though. Your body’s sensitivity to light can be used to your advantage to catch stronger z’s. The more light you can remove from your space, the better rest you’ll get. Here’s how to do it…
A survey by the National Sleep Foundation found that 95% of people use some sort of light-emitting device immediately before bed. The little blue lights from all the devices we can’t live without fall on a short wavelength spectrum, making them extra potent when it comes to upsetting your internal clock. Lights from energy-saving blubs, laptops, and cell phones also delay melatonin release, making it harder to both get to sleep and stay asleep.
To seal out light from other rooms, particularly if you share your home and may have family members or roommates awake when you’re sleeping, close your bedroom door. Better yet, take a walk through the house and turn out the lights in the hallway and neighboring rooms.
If your bedroom is exposed to street light, hang curtains or blinds to seal out unnatural light as much as possible. You’ll still want natural light in the morning, so you don’t have to go so far as blackout shades (although you can).
The bottom line is the only light in your bedroom should be natural light. Your body craves sunlight upon waking. Getting out into direct sunlight will give you a healthy dose of vitamin D. Revel in your sweet cocoon of darkness (as dark as possible, y’all) all night, and when it’s time to wake up, go for the real thing. Open your blinds or enjoy your morning coffee outside.
Note: If you wake before dawn, invest in a dawn-simulating alarm. You can even find lights especially engineered to offset seasonal affective disorder—the moody blues that come with not enough exposure to natural sunlight.
Opening Photo: Steve Hiett
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