An impressive machine, the human body is routinely affected by both light and dark environments: Daylight hours have plenty of power over our brains, naturally signaling to us when it's time to wake and when it's time to rest. It's no secret that modern living has given rise to a slew of unnatural light sources, and while a significant amount of us spend most of our days indoors under the harsh fluorescents of the workplace, our bodies crave natural sunlight. There may be very 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. As it turns out, 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 e-readers to iPhones, is all the extra gadgetry messing with our health?
How Lights Affects Sleep
Studies show excess light in the bedroom can affect sleep quality, disrupting the body's natural circadian rhythm. Artificial light, such as that emitted by smartphones, e-readers, and televisions, 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 improve the quality of z's you're getting each night. The more light you can remove from your space, the better rest you'll get. Here's how to do it.
Keep Devices Out of Your Room
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 bulbs, laptops, and cell phones also delay melatonin release, making it harder to both get to sleep and stay asleep. For more restful sleep, keep as many devices outside your bedroom as possible.
Keep Your Bedroom Door Closed
To seal out light from other rooms, particularly if you share your home with family members, roommates, or a partner who may be awake while you're sleeping, close your bedroom door. Better yet, take a walk through the house and turn off all the lights in the hallway and neighboring rooms to ensure your space is as dark as possible before turning in for the night.
Hang Window Treatments
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) all night, and when it's time to wake up, go for the real thing. Open your blinds or enjoy your morning coffee outside.
When the sun rises, light enters through the eyelids and triggers the body to begin its wake-up cycle with the release of the hormone cortisol. But if you get up before dawn, feeling fully awake in the morning can be hard. Consider a dawn-simulating alarm clock—it can be pre-set to slowly get brighter, simulating the effect of the sunrise and helping to get that cortisol pumping!
Dijk DJ, Archer SN. Light, Sleep, and Circadian Rhythms: Together Again. PLoS Biol. 2009;7(6):e1000145. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000145
National Institutes of Health. Artificial Light During Sleep Linked to Obesity. NIH Research Matters. June 18, 2019.
Sleepfoundation.org. How Electronics Affect Sleep. July 28, 2020.