It’s that magical time of night when we turn off the lights, tuck ourselves in, and prepare for a restful slumber. But wait — what’s that flashing light? Oh, it’s an email notification on your phone and you can’t avoid it because it’s visible even through your closed lids. Did you know that every light on in your bedroom affects your sleep? Even a light outside creeping through your window can disrupt your sleep cycle. Let me explain.
At night, particularly between the hours of 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., our brains produce a chemical called melatonin, also known as the sleep hormone. (You may have seen this being sold as a natural sleep aid at your local drug store.) The problem is, even the slightest ray of artificial light can disrupt its release. Now, think about all the things that light up in your room — your computer, chargers, cell phones, tablet, alarm clock, nightlight, the hall light outside your door, and yes, even your beautiful Himalayan salt lamp — all disrupt your body’s melatonin production.
Let’s Take It Back to the Stone Age
Long before your or my time, or the time of our parents and grandparents, for that matter, humans were only exposed to a few kinds of light: light from the sun during the day and light from the moon and stars, or campfires, at night. These regulated our circadian rhythm, and this binary pattern of day followed by night was all we knew. Naturally, our biological programming adjusted to this reality.
Comparing Light Sources
As you can see, there is a considerable difference between the light given off by the sun and the light reflected by the moon, even when it’s full. The issue here is, virtually all sources of artificial light give off more illuminance (LAN) than moonlight, and we use these most often when the sun goes down and our bodies should be being exposed to less light, not more. What’s more, we aren’t exposed to the light from the moon unless we are outside, which is less likely to happen once the sun goes down.
Melatonin does a lot more for us than just help us sleep. Produced in the pineal gland, when released appropriately it helps to lower blood pressure, glucose levels, and body temperature, all key components of a restful night’s sleep.
Can Total Darkness Help Us Spiritually?
The pineal glad is also known as “the seat of the soul,” and many believe it to be the gateway to the afterlife, connecting us to our spirit and other realms outside of this dimension. While we dream it also emits a chemical compound, which also happens to be the most potent psychedelic substance known to man, called dimethyl-tryptamine. Many believe our pineal glands have been polluted by exposure to various environmental contaminants and that an effective way to cleanse it is to expose it to max sunlight and total darkness.
Is Light a Drug?
Neuroscientist George Brainard thinks so, claiming “Light works as if it’s a drug, except it’s not a drug at all.”
LAN unnaturally raises cortisol levels, and if you know anything about cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, then you know it does a lot of harm. It can lead to inflammation, insulin resistance, and excess body fat, and can contribute to sleep debt, which affects your mood, productivity, hunger, and focus during the day.
Is There a Simple Solution?
There is, sort of. You can start by eliminating all sources of artificial lighting from your room at night, and covering those you can’t remove, such as your alarm clock. If you live in a city with streetlights, then you may also want to consider purchasing some blackout curtains. If this not an option, consider buying an eye mask instead.
Simple enough so far, but there’s more. Returning to our ancestral sleeping habits for a moment, we know prehistoric people went to sleep when the sun went down and woke up when the sun rose. Our modern sleeping habits, by contrast, ignore the natural rhythms of the Earth and our bodies, thanks to the wonders of artificial light and the increased productivity it afforded us. We are up late, sleeping in well past sunlight, and sitting in bright artificial light once the sun goes down. It is important that we limit this behaviour as much as possible, however, because studies have shown that exposure to room light alone before bedtime shortens the production of melatonin by about 90 minutes compared to dim light exposure. In addition, exposure to room light during usual hours of sleep suppresses melatonin levels by more than 50%.
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If you can avoid using technology for two hours before bed (a difficult task, I know), you will have an easier time falling asleep. During this time you could read a book by candlelight, have a bath, journal — anything that doesn’t rely on artificial light. You may also want to consider adding a bluelight filter to your devices, as this type of light in particular delays melatonin release.
Have you tried sleeping in total darkness? What benefits have you noticed?
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