Light stimulates alertness. That’s a good thing first thing in the morning, but during the evening it can cause sleep disruption. When darkness descends at the end of the day, the light sensitive cells in our retinas signal our brains that it’s
time to prepare for sleep. The pineal gland switches “on” and begins producing melatonin (aka the sleep hormone), which regulates our sleep-wake cycle, slowing metabolic functions and lowering body temperature. This, in turn, makes us sleepy and less alert.
Melatonin levels continue to rise throughout the night and stay elevated until the sun rises, when your pineal gland switches “off”.
However, exposure to bright light throughout the evening inhibits the natural production of melatonin, which can interfere with the sleep-wake cycle, and consequently the quantity and quality of sleep. Managing your exposure to light in the evening is critical to ensuring the natural sleep-wake cycle functions as it should. The last thing many of us do before bedtime is stand in front of a bright light to brush our teeth. Or we check our emails or social media sites one last time (the blue light from all our gadgets is a notorious sleep-robber).
To prevent stimulation, dim the lights a full hour before bedtime. Use a dimmer switch to control brightness, or install low wattage bulbs in table lamps. You might also consider installing a flexi bulb, like Philips’ Scene Switch bulb, which can be switched from a cool light for daytime and a warm relaxing light for evenings. No special equipment or switches are needed. You simply insert the bulb into your existing light fitting.
When going to sleep, block out all light in your bedroom (blackout curtains are ideal for this). Install a red nightlight if necessary – outside your bedroom. Turning on a light in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom will disrupt your melatonin production.
Did you know? Lux levels for pre-bedtime activities, like reading or listening to music, should be less than 180 lux. A typically lit home may have lux readings in the range of 300-500. Lux outputs are determined by the intensity and colour of your lights. To work out watts to lux, check out this calculator here.