Light wakes us up
Light triggers chemicals in our brains that wake us up. That’s why it’s so much easier to rise and shine in the summer than in the winter.
But I used to dread the long summer days when light would sneak into my bedroom and wake me up before 5 am. I couldn’t find curtains or blinds for my bedroom window that adequately blocked the morning sun. Finally, I invested in some heavy, black-out drapes, the kind used in hotels. They aren’t very decorative, but they help me sleep longer in the morning.
Artificial light also disrupts our sleep. It mostly keeps us from getting to sleep at night because it suppresses melatonin, which our brains need to induce sleep. Before the invention of electric lights, our bodies’ natural sleep patterns—our circadian clocks—were regulated by sunlight alone. Our ancestors probably slept better than we did.
Related post: First sleep, second sleep
Want better sleep? Turn it all off!
But modern bedrooms are filled with sources of light—lamps, clocks, televisions, computers, game consoles, iPads, iPods and iPhones. These electronic devices are especially disruptive to sleep because they emit “blue light.”
Blue light is a specific part of the light spectrum. It is why the sky is blue, and so our brains naturally associate blue light with day and become more alert, even if it’s the middle of the night.
For better sleep, experts recommend using no more than a 40 Watt bulb in bedside lamps, and avoiding blue light for at least an hour before going to bed. I’m guessing most people ignore that advice.
Consider an eye mask for better sleep
Perhaps some people are more affected by light than others. Even a small amount of light in the bedroom, such as the dim light on a clock face, can prevent me from falling asleep. And when my husband wants to sit up and read or use his smartphone, I toss and turn in frustration.
At least I did before I found a product that drastically improved my ability to sleep—and it wasn’t a sleeping pill. The Tempur-Pedic Sleep Mask, made by the same company that makes mattresses, is amazing!
It’s made of memory foam, so it’s very comfortable and molds itself around my eyes, effectively blocking out all light. I use it when my husband stays up late, in the summer when sunlight still sneaks past the curtains, and when I travel (it’s terrific on long plane flights).
There aren’t many health-related products I endorse, but if you are a “light” sleeper like me, a good quality sleep mask is worth buying.