Not Sleeping Well? Light Exposure at Night May Be the Cause.

Man Using Bright Laptop at Night5 Ways to Sleep Better and Harness Melatonin

In today’s fast paced, computer age humans are facing more and more light pollution. By ‘light pollution’ I’m referring to the amount of light we are exposed to that isn’t directly related to the sun. Ever since the invention of electricity we have changed our human physiology exposing ourselves to more and more unnatural sources of light. Think about our massive televisions, bright computer screens, phone displays and home lighting, as well as street lights and car headlights (getting brighter and brighter). We have only had electricity for a small fraction of human’s time on earth. For thousands of years our days revolved mainly around the sun. It dictated our sleep/wake cycles with few exceptions. In our current era – poor quality and quantity of sleep is increasing our health ailments. Light pollution is partially to blame for this.

Hormonal Regulation

Our bodies are synced up with the sun which helps set our circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycles). Prior to electricity about half an hour after the sun went down our pineal gland in the centre of our brain would surge with melatonin. This influx of melatonin signalled to the body that it is time to rest and recover. In fact melatonin released while sleeping is closely associated with the release of the reparative growth hormone. Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant. It has also been identified as having potential anti-tumor effects. Some preliminary studies have suggested that those working night shifts may have higher rates of cancer then the control groups. This is likely due to the decrease in melatonin release as night shift workers are exposed to light during the nighttime hours.

What to do?
The bottom line is that we are messing with an important physiological mechanism. Our¬†exposure to ever increasing levels of light during the night can’t be good as our bodies weren’t designed this way. To try and minimize light pollution and harness the natural restorative effects of melatonin follow these 5 tips:

  1. If your schedule allows it – try not to stay up too late – especially in front of a computer or television screen.
  2. Use black out blinds in your bedroom.
  3. Make sure there are no bright sources of light inside your bedroom (including birght alarm clocks!).
  4. Install dimmer light switches in your house and keep the lights dim close to bedtime.
  5. If you insist on using the computer, television or hand held device prior to bedtime try and dim the screen brightness.

Now stop reading this, dim the lights and get some rest! You will experience more of the healthy benefits natural melatonin can provide you.

This article is also featured on the GoodLife Blog.

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Dr. Jory is on a never ending quest to acquire knowledge. His intellectual passions for science, health, astronomy, and evolution are balanced with physical passions of cycling, surfing, kayaking, and hiking.

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