In the age of the portable and ever-present screen, are we sacrificing sleep just to scroll? How does artificial light affect the quality of our sleep?
The science is in: artificial light, whether it’s emanating from your phone, the city street lights, or coming in through your eyelids from the clock beside your bed, has a detrimental impact on your sleep. In turn, your physical and overall health is being jeopardized.
Ok. This does sound alarmist. But as artificial light and its effect on sleep is being studied more and more, researchers are concluding that achieving pure darkness is one of the best things a person can do for optimal sleep health.
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Light + Sleep
Why is light linked to sleep? They answer is physiological, and it has to do with an essential sleep-promoting hormone. Melatonin is typically suppressed during the day and rises at night. This syncs with our circadian rhythms (aka our cycles of being awake and being asleep).
Light plays an important role in regulating a person’s circadian rhythm. This internal clock that signals to a person when to shut it down for the day, and when to wake up can operate smoothly or it can short-circuit if it is being constantly messed with.
For example, people who often travel to different time zones or who work shift work can have long-term negative health consequences. When a person has to constantly switch their days for nights and nights for days, their bodies have a difficult time regulating their circadian rhythm. Then the body releases melatonin and other brain chemicals during hours not normally correlated with rest. In turn, this can affect the rest of the body’s ability to function and achieve optimal health.
What does the science say?
Sleep is a highly studied phenomenon. With research spanning from why we dream to discovering the exact processes our bodies go through in order to achieve good quality of sleep.
When it comes to how artificial light at night affects our sleep, studies show that manufactured light can work against quality rest and sleep by suppressing melatonin levels. What makes it more concerning is that scientists report that there is a link between the disruption of melatonin and certain diseases, including cancer and diabetes.
Some research has found is that even a small amount of light was “enough to activate the sympathetic arm of the autonomic nervous system.” This system is responsible for the body’s flight or fight response. When we sleep, this important system is meant to relax right down, so that the body can achieve pure rest with a lowered heart rate and calm, slow, even breaths.
Showing that the body’s intelligence is always working hard for us, the changes in the heart rate and breath function – the cardiovascular system –suggest that even a small amount of light was enough to affect eh body’s nervous system to a more activated and alert state.
One researcher put it this way: “It’s almost like the brain and the heart knew that the lights were on, although the individual was sleeping.”
How to achieve quality sleep?
We all know what happens to us when our sleep is interrupted or what it feels like to wake up knowing that we haven’t slept well.
It is important to invest in rest and sleep by:
- making enough time for it (try not to sacrifice your sleep hours in order to get other stuff done during the day)
- going to bed and waking up at relatively the same time every day and night
- ensuring that you have a quality mattress that provides comfort and support
- blocking out all light sources, either with black out curtains or a sleep mask
- removing screens from your room, including any tvs, computers, phones and tablets
If you are looking for more sleep advice or are thinking about investing in a new mattress to improve the quality of your sleep, come to our mattress store in Surrey. Our staff are experts in the field and can help you choose the perfect mattress and provide you with all kinds of helpful tips to get you on track for optimal sleep health.