27 Aug Sleeptime Ritual #1 – Darkness
As a kid, I remember that satisfying feeling of zonking out when hitting the pillow and after 8 hours of a blissful slumber, whipping out of bed to take the day full-on. It was glorious and I took it for granted.
Today, we often hear of someone going through a phase of unsatisfying sleep. Without productive sleep, we loose the pivotal aspect in health that keeps us from aging too rapidly. And not just some sleep, but solid repair & cleansing sleep that makes us feel happy, focused and younger. Without it, we hang on to toxins, struggle with a lowered immune system (resulting in more serious health issues) and remain stressed out, foggy-brained, anxious and depressed.
When it’s time to sleep, we need to enter a state of relaxation and release control of our busy egos. Drifting into sleep allows the subconscious mind to communicate with the superconscious mind, deepening our connection to the spirit planes. On a physical level, our bodies scavenge for toxins and cancer cells, flush out our brains and repair tissue while we are in deep sleep. The day after a successful sleep should be filled with newfound energy and aspirations.
We should sleep like we did as a child. Getting older might be the excuse, but shouldn’t be the reason not to. There can be several causes for sleep issues (which will be discussed in future articles) but a huge culprit is too much light during the hours before bed time.
Minimizing light at night is a very important sleeping hack that will be the leading element towards staying young, successful, healthy and happy.
Essentially, our health is greatly governed by the circadian regulatory system which adjusts to the daily cycle of light and dark as well as to the seasons. The circadian rhythm tells us that the greatest energy output should be in the morning, while physical and brain activity decrease as the day winds down.
Before artificial lights, humans went along with the natural cycle of the sun, waking up as it rose and falling asleep as it set. Now, we bathe in light right up until the last minute of shutting our eyes.
When light hits the eyes, (including the third eye where the light-sensitive pineal gland sits) it triggers a nerve pathway to an area in the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus then sends signals to other parts of the brain that control hormones, body temperature and other functions that play a role in making us feel tired, or awake. When the sun sets and we don’t expose ourselves to artificial lights, the pineal gland will produce melatonin, a hormone that induces a natural fade towards sleep. This allows us to shut down so the night workers inside our brains and body can start their shift on keeping us bright-eyed and restored. As an important side note, melatonin plays a huge role in our health, above and beyond signalling the time of day to our bodies. It also lets the body know the time of year and at normal levels, enhances the immune system, normalizes blood pressure, acts as a powerful antioxidant, alleviates migraines, improves thyroid and adrenal functions, reduces plaque in the brain and the list goes on. At subnormal melatonin levels, our immune system suffers and neurological disorders can develop. Melatonin also occurs in other areas of the body, including the retina, gastrointestinal tract, skin, bone marrow and lymphocytes. Prolonged exposure to artificial light before bed can rapidly decrease both pineal melatonin production and blood melatonin levels. A lack of melatonin actually results in sharper cognitive and memory functions, which is what we don’t want before bed!
Lightbulbs are one offender but a more serious criminal is technology. Computer, TV and iPhone screens emit blue light, which is completely opposite to the warm reddish-yellow glow the sun offers while setting. Blue light has a shorter wavelength than regular incandescent light and is for sure shorter than sunlight. Less melatonin is produced when exposed to a short wavelength light source. Our brains think blue light means it’s day time, which is when melatonin secretion stops. Blue light triggers the body to produce day-time hormones (like cortisol) which sends the message that sleep-time is hours away.
Researchers discovered that looking at a phone or iPad while in bed, results in feeling less sleepy because of secreting less melatonin which causes shorter REM sleep compared to those who simply read books in low lighting. Shorter REM sleep during one night will leave us feeling less alert and more tired the next day and if this habit occurred every night, there would be chronic disruption to the circadian rhythm, resulting in more serious health issues.
There is also the infamous electromagnetic fields (EMF’s) to consider. EMF’s are a stressor to the body and also plays a role in the body’s pineal melatonin production, which in turn disrupts our circadian rhythm. Another theory touches on our bodies frequency compared to artificial light. Brainwave frequency patterns that correlates with sleep is around 1 to 3 hertz. When we are very alert and possibly under stress, that frequency can go as high as 38 hertz. A lightbulb gives off 60 hertz – could this indirectly affect our own frequencies and rhythms?
Even though there are evenings that working on the computer just needs to get done, we can usually avoid this by proper time management. If you plan to do work into the evening hours, know that it is going to press up against your quality sleep, which will only make for a less productive next-day. This is where you need to get serious about the work-life balance. Planning out your day’s tasks the night before or in the morning can make a huge difference in terms of when quality work gets done during the day, instead of letting it spill into the evening.
There is also a theory that our brains release dopamine (a chemical that is about seeking) when we are surfing channels or the web. This explains why quickly looking for one thing on the computer eventually leads to 2 hours of surfing. The release of dopamine actually causes the body to be more alert which is exactly what you don’t want before bed. Sadly, we are very tied to our devices. If something comes up and work needs to be done after hours, I will wear blue-light blocker glasses, which does exactly as they say. Check out them out at http://www.gunnars.com/
Once you reach the bedroom, sleeping in complete darkness is just as, if not more important. Similar to the retina, our skin has light photoreceptors, and produces a light-sensitive chemical called rhodopsin. This means even a tiny bit of light in the bedroom can interfere with sleep hormones. In fact, if there is still light coming through the window, door or alarm clock, melatonin levels can be suppressed by more than 50%, even if you are minimizing blue light in the hours before bed. Invest in blackout curtains or a pull down shade and remove all devices that are giving off a glow in the bedroom, especially a night light. Black out curtains are a must if you live in Canada and the summer nights are brightly lit until almost 11 pm! If you like to read before falling asleep like I do, change the bulb of your bedside lamp to an orange or red one (hardware stores sell these). The lamp I have has a dimmer switch, so I slowly dim the light more and more as I lay there and start to get sleepy while reading. Candle light and himalayan salt lamps are also a great option.
Also, to get the best sleep ever, make it a habit to expose yourself to the sun during the day. The full spectrum lighting from the sun (infrared (IR) and ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths) is the most effective regulator of the body clock because it triggers the secretion of chemical messengers that regulate automatic functions, which in turn has a positive effect on the body’s sleep hormones. Consider purchasing full spectrum lightbulbs to put in your living area, which is a vast improvement compared to incandescent or fluorescent lighting.
Embrace the darkness at night and your physiology will improve greatly. Sweet Dreams!