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How is light exposure connected to how well you sleep?

Through complex processes, our bodies are able to respond to the light levels around us. Light has a profound effect on brain function, prompting us to wake and sleep in time with the rising and the falling of the sun. Modern life has pulled us away from these natural cycles though, and electric lighting, TVs, laptops, and other devices have extended our days long into the night. These modern conveniences aren’t without their health implications, and their effect on our sleep patterns are subtle, but widespread. So much so, that 40% of Canadians suffer from some kind of sleep disorder.

When sunlight enters the eyes, it triggers a series of processes in the brain resulting in the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Then as the sun lowers, and your pupils dilate, and the brain converts serotonin into melatonin. Amongst other things, melatonin is responsible for making us feel sleepy as we approach bedtime, and helps keep us asleep during the night. So it goes without saying that if you’re short on serotonin, you’re going to be short on melatonin too.

Researchers found that people who were exposed to greater amounts of light during the morning hours, between 8 a.m. and Noon, fell asleep more quickly at night and had fewer sleep disturbances during the night compared to those exposed to low light in the morning.

Office workers who were exposed to high levels of light all day, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., also reported lower levels of sleep disturbance, stress and depression.

Top Tips to Maximise on exposure to Sleep-friendly light-sources!:

• Get outside for 30 minutes during the day, ideally in the morning, but any daytime hour is better than nothing.

• Install the app F.Lux for you computer as it reduces melatonin-inhibiting blue light emitting from your screen in the evening, also available for your mobile devices.

• Shut down all digital screens like you computer, TV, and phone at least an hour before you go to bed.

• Switch your light bulbs to the incandescent (warm, yellow hued) kind, and dim them, and/or switch to candles at least an hour before you go to bed.

• Invest in blackout curtains or blinds to keep residual blue light out of your bedroom at night.

• Remove, or cover all sources of light from electronic devices in your room such as alarm clocks, fans etc. If for whatever reason you can’t do this, invest in a sleep mask because that light can still penetrate your closed eyelids.


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