There’s no need to be afraid of the dark, especially at bedtime
Many children and even some adults see the darkness as something to fear. We’re brought up on stories of monsters lurking under beds and in closets, only coming out when the sun has set and the moon is high. This can make the idea of sleeping in the pitch black a spooky prospect to a lot of people.
But there’s nothing to fear about the dark, especially at bedtime. In fact, when it comes to falling asleep, darkness is one of your most reliable allies.
Darkness is essential for sleep. The absence of light sends critical signals to the body to let it know that it is time to rest, and light exposure at the wrong time can alter your internal sleep–wake cycle in ways that interfere with the quality and quantity of your sleep.
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain’s pineal gland. It is often referred to as your body’s natural sleep hormone or darkness hormone, and for good reason. Melatonin influences sleep by sending a signal to the brain that informs it that it is time to rest. This signal helps your body prepare for sleep – relaxing muscles, increasing feelings of drowsiness, and dropping body temperature.
Melatonin levels natural creep up in the early evening as darkness falls, and continue to crawl throughout the night before peaking in the early hours. Levels of melatonin then drop throughout the early morning and remain low throughout much of the day.
When you expose yourself to light in the evening, you effectively inhibit the natural rise in melatonin levels, delaying the onset of the body’s transition to sleep and sleep itself.
Light – a very modern sleep problem?
For the vast majority of human history, we have not needed to seek out darkness. But the birth of electricity in the 20th century fundamentally changed our relationship with light and dark, creating new challenges when it comes to sleep.
Artificial light is now ingrained as part of our daily lives. But it is important to consider that constant exposure to bright lights can disrupt our ability to sleep without us even realising it. This has become an even greater issue in recent years with the skyrocketing popularity of smartphones and tablets. When you scroll through your phone right up until the moment your head hits the pillow, not only are you bombarding your brain with information when it should be winding down, but you’re also exposing yourself to bright lights that can inhibit your body’s release of melatonin, making sleep more difficult.
Managing your light intake
Assessing your relationship to light, especially in the run up to bedtime, is essential to creating a healthy sleep environment. With awareness and attention to detail, you can create a bedroom that lends itself to quality sleep by guarding against unwanted light.
Window coverings should have the ability to block out light, whether that’s through blackout blinds or effectively lined curtains. Make sure your window coverings are well fitted so that no sliver of morning light or streetlamp glow can get in.
But it’s not all about your windows. Electronics in the bedroom pose a serious threat to a good night’s sleep. Try not to allow televisions, tablets and computers in your bedroom. You should also try not to use your phone for at least an hour before bed. Instead of leaving it right next to your bed, try leaving it on the other side of the room, or even in another room altogether, to remove the temptation.