Turn Everything Off To Turn In
Long summer days are a treat. More daylight means more time to spend outdoors, which promotes both physical and mental health. But the nights are shorter, which can mean less sleep. And artificial light can make getting that good night’s rest even harder while also damaging health.
A recent study found that dim light, like that from a TV, can raise both blood sugar and heart rate. Higher blood sugar levels can lead to type 2 diabetes, while higher heart rates may cause future heart disease or even early death. The researchers found that though participants slept with their eyes fully closed, dim light could still enter through the eyelids to disrupt sleep.
Phyllis Zee, chief of sleep medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, ran the study. She noted, “More than 53% or so had some light during the night in the room…[T]hose who had higher amounts of light at night were also the most likely to have diabetes, obesity or hypertension.”
Also important: when you sleep. Night owls, or people who go to bed late and sleep late, tend to “have a higher risk for cardiovascular and metabolic disorders,” said Dr. Zee.
So, what are some strategies to prevent light from interfering with sleep?
Block out light . Position your bed so it isn’t facing windows and consider installing blackout shades or curtains. Leave cellphones and laptops out of the bedroom, even if they are only charging; the blue light they emit changes the levels of melatonin, the brain hormone that helps with sleep cycles. If needed, wear a sleep mask.
Keep light low. If you get up in the night, try to do so with as little light as possible. Install dimmers (for example, in the bathroom) so you can adjust the light and turn it off as soon as possible. For some, especially seniors, getting up in darkness can be dangerous. In these cases, use nightlights that are near to the floor. Selecting nightlights that are amber or red is also a good idea. Those colors don’t interfere with the body clock as much since their wavelengths are longer.
Reduce light near bedtime. More light, whether natural or artificial, tells the body to stay awake and get things done. About two hours before tucking in to sleep, start reducing light exposure. Turn off or dim artificial lights, put the laptop in “night mode,” and do something relaxing. Dr. Leslie Swanson, a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychiatry in the Sleep and Circadian Research Laboratory at the University of Michigan, notes, “We’re not built to go from 60 miles an hour to zero. We need time to slow down or else it will be hard for us to sleep.”
To get the most out of the long bright summer days, make sure you are setting yourself up for dark sleepful nights.