I normally don’t make too many resolutions. And if I don’t accomplish a goal I set for myself, I normally don’t get TOO hung up about it either, but ruminating on it can bring up feelings of disappointment. If I know I’m not ready to accomplish something, why purposefully set myself up for failure?
This year I figured out a resolution I can stick to (with just a couple exceptions): get better sleep by turning off any electronics that emit blue light by 9pm. Why 9? Because it’s recommended to stop viewing blue light at least one hour prior to bedtime, if not more.
What Affect does Blue Light Have?
A pretty powerful one, actually. Blue light suppresses your melatonin production. At night the pineal gland, a small endocrine gland located at the center of the brain (but outside the blood brain barrier) converts serotonin to melatonin. The trigger for this magical chemistry? Darkness. It’s our natural sleeping pill.
How does our brain know it’s dark? Via our window to the outside world, our eyesight. We have crude sensors in our eyes that send signals to the pineal gland, which acts as our master clock. These sensors are especially sensitive to blue light (which is emitted by the sun), and not really sensitive at all to low, ambient light. Back in time, when firelight was our evening light source, hardly any blue light was emitted. And even the incandescent bulb emits fairly low blue light. But electronics, and the proliferation of environmentally friendly compact fluorescent bulbs, have flooded our nighttime environments with melatonin suppressing blue light. You don’t even have to be looking directly at blue light for it to send your brain the wrong signal.
Maybe you don’t have to get THIS extreme
Why does Melatonin Matter?
Aside from sending us into restorative sleep, melatonin acts as a powerful antioxidant in our bodies. It also works synergystically with other antioxidants to make them more effective. It’s anti-inflammatory, and the suppression of melatonin has been linked to heart disease, certain forms of cancer, diabetes, and obesity.
So what can I do about it?
You can try an over-the-counter melatonin supplement. But your body has the power to produce it for you, if you just create the right environment. Here are a few choices you can make to create a good nightime environment:
- Turn the TV off at least one hour before bedtime
- Stop looking at all electronics at least one hour before bedtime (don’t worry, Facebook will still be there in the morning)
- Use incandescent bulbs in at least a few lamps in your home, and only use those in the evening
- Use the lowest watt you’re comfortable with, trying to create a low light environment
- If you’re a nighttime reader (like I am), start picking up real books to read again
With a few easy adjustments, you should be able to get your brain back to its favorite nighttime job, sending you off to sleep so your body can clean house and prepare you for tomorrow.
- Harvard Health Publications: Blue Light has a Dark Side
- The Washington Post: Blue light from electronics disturbs sleep, especially for teenagers
- A Woman’s Health: The Value of Sleep
photo credit: nik gaffney