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Life-Work Balance – Ep. 26: Do you sleep in the dark?

Principle 2 (Sleep more) of my Life-Work Balance program is the main topic for today’s post, and I will focus on the importance of darkness for a good night’s sleep.

Let’s face it: it’s very difficult to sleep enough hours nowadays because, thanks to (or should I say, because of?) technology, we often find ourselves immersed in some tech-related activity before bedtime: checking text messages on our cell phone one more time before going to bed, binge-watching series on TV, sending one last email from our computer, maybe we use a tablet to read our favorite book instead of having a physical book in our hands (I’m guilty as well here: digital books are much easier to carry around if you’re mobile or you’re traveling)… So many things to do that many of us take care of … in the bedroom!

Well, this should all stop. Research has shown that having light sources in the bedroom doesn’t help with your sleep: they could disrupt your sleep-wake cycle and also negatively impact your mental and physical health in the long run.

Sleep is not only a resting phase, it’s also a restorative phase in our daily cycle. During sleep, our brain is involved in encoding memory, and cleansing thanks to the glymphatic system, which removes toxins accumulated during the day.

Sleeping in the dark is the best way to enjoy a good night’s sleep. This is mostly because overexposure to light can disrupt your natural circadian rhythm (the biological mechanism that regulates sleep-wake cycles).

This is a problem of modern times. Our ancestors were just following the natural cycle of the day. They would wake up at sunrise and go to bed after sunset, or around that time. They were just following their physiological rhythm according to nature.

Electricity in the 20th century became responsible for disrupting the sleep-wake cycle. Today we can stay up late working or engaging in activities just by turning on the light at our desk or in the house, but we’re not following the inputs from Mother Nature anymore.

This can be a good thing because we can accomplish more later in the day, but also a bad thing because we don’t allow our body to rest. We have certainly evolved but we are still the same we were thousands of years ago and we still have the same exact needs. Sleeping is one of them.

Let’s take a look at what happens when we need to sleep.

When the evening (dark) comes, the eye’s retina sends a signal to the brain that it is time to rest. This signal helps initiate the body’s physiological process to get ready for sleep. Your muscles will begin to relax, you will start feeling sleepy, and your body temperature will drop. The “sleep” hormone melatonin gets produced and its levels keep rising through the night, then they fall during the early morning. That’s when the eye’s retina detects light and sends a new signal to the brain that it’s time to wake up. On that occasion, the “stress” hormone cortisol is produced, and it gives us the energy needed for the day.

As you can see, dark is extremely important if you want to keep your body in check with your circadian rhythm and keep you healthier.

Some tips to establish a good sleep routine:

  1. Keep your bedroom as dark as possible. Use dark drapes to block the outdoor lights from your window. This includes not only the light in the night but also the early morning sunlight. Blackout curtains are the perfect solution, and thanks to their thicker material, they also provide insulation that can block out heat during the summer and lock it in during the winter. This means less heating and less air conditioning which helps you save on your electric bill, too.
    You can just google “blackout” or even “thermal” curtains, I know Amazon sells them
  2. If you absolutely need a source of light during the night (maybe you need to go to the bathroom or maybe your little child wakes up crying) then you can use a nightlight but make sure it has a red bulb. Red is a long wavelength light and it’s been shown that it’s less disruptive to sleep than other light wavelengths. You should put the nightlight in a hallway or another room, if possible
  3. Remove TVs or computers from your bedroom, and even cover up the LED screens of your alarm clock if they’re too bright (unless you can dim their intensity)
  4. Avoid screen time 1-2 hours before you go to bed: turn off your TV, your computer, your tablet, and put your phone away for the night. Why? Because the light from digital devices contains blue light, which is a short wavelength (the opposite of red light) and blue light prevents the production of melatonin, therefore, it disrupts your sleep-wake cycle

There’s something to keep in mind about sleeping with your cell phone next to you, on your nightstand. Cell phones emit electromagnetic radiation whenever they’re on, and this means you get exposed to this radiation all night long. This is a very controversial topic because electromagnetic fields (EMFs) seem safe, however, research studies demonstrate the opposite, and they confirm they can cause major health issues (PubMed lists several ones).

An easy way to reduce the potential danger is to put your phone on “airplane mode” – which shuts down the transceiver – if you use it as an alarm clock (like many of us do, including myself), or just turn it off completely if you don’t use it as an alarm clock. If you need to be available for calls, then you can place the phone several feet away from your bed. That way, your body will not be subject to the radiation while you sleep.

Need help with your personal and professional life? Is your daily routine draining your batteries? Let’s chat, I might have the perfect solution to your problems! Schedule a FREE Clarity Call with me HERE

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