Sleep Techniques That Work
Optimize Your Body’s Sleep Synchronization Using Light
An important part of sleep or not being able to sleep for people who have tried everything (such as powerful herbs and techniques in the first blog here) is understanding your circadian rhythm and the difference between blue and red light exposure. Your pineal gland, amongst other things, regulates your sleep hormone melatonin based on your circadian rhythm and light. When the sun goes down it prepares to secrete the melatonin and when the sun goes up it stops the secretion.
A big factor in achieving quality sleep is a solid and stable circadian rhythm. Without artificial light sources, 150 years ago it would have been difficult to have sleep issues since they are the cause of disrupted circadian rhythm. Today we stare at a brightly lit screen well past sundown, but is our phone really impacting our health to such an extent that we're all becoming fatter, sicker and chronically fatigued? Yes, and adding to the problem is TV's, computer screens and more!
Most would guess the stress keeps them up, and that’s true but bigger than stress and stimulants, light affects every cell in our body, our immune system, mood, and hormones.
The most obvious circadian rhythm is the sleep-wake cycle but others such as hormone release of cortisol and melatonin are a big factor as well. If your circadian rhythm is out of whack your body could be releasing cortisol late at night instead of first thing in your morning as it should be doing. This scenario would leave you to feel groggy and tired in the morning while being alert and wide-awake late at night. Sound familiar?
Every cell in your body has essentially a clock. These cell clocks, appropriately known as circadian clocks work by responding to light and darkness cues. When one is healthy, the clocks are in sync and the body's activities will be properly coordinated.
A disruption of this circadian rhythm coordination not only leads to a perpetual jet lagged feeling, but also:
• Higher rates of cancer
• Heart disease
• Insulin resistance (leading to diabetes)
• Leptin resistance
Along with these health issues, misfiring circadian rhythms are linked to memory and learning inhibition (4). This all shows why fixing your circadian rhythm can be the most effective trick to improving not only your sleep but also your health and your waistline.
Light Effects our Cellular Clocks
A recent study published in Science Translational Medicine found that “Caffeine at night delays human circadian clock” (5). The researchers found that 200mg of caffeine (equivalent to a double espresso) 3 hours before bedtime created a 40minute phase delay in the test subjects’ biological clock. They also showed that caffeine had a direct effect on the internal clocks in human cells. No surprises there.
In this same study, the researchers also looked at how light affected circadian rhythm. Stone Hearth Newsletters reported:
"The study also showed that bright light alone ... induced circadian phase delays in the test subjects of about 85 minutes.” Yes, you read that right. Bright light delayed circadian rhythm more than twice as long as a double espresso coffee.
Over the past 10-15 years with the popularity of white light energy efficient bulbs and screens, we are now flooded with artificial blue light 24/7.
Author Jack Kruse sums it up by saying:
“Every time we look at our phone, we send a signal to the brain that the sun is up.”
Our bodies (and our cells) remain programmed to function off a light-dark cycle. For example, it has been shown that morning exposure to bright sunlight helps reset our circadian rhythm, especially if it has been disrupted (6). So if you travel, you should get morning sunlight exposure when you arrive in your destination or if you are a night owl with poor sleep habits, morning sunlight exposure will help address your sleep issues.
Blue Light and Melatonin
In the electromagnetic spectrum, your eye can see the sun is blue light. So when there is blue light (which includes white) from the sun no melatonin will be secreted. The daytime picture on the left illustrates this. The problem is, our TV’s, computers, and other devices also produce blue light, which you don't want at night! Have you had the experience of being tired before bed, but after turning on your computer, TV, or phone and suddenly you were not able to sleep? This is because your pineal gland perceived this as the sun rising. (have you ever seen someone use a cell phone at night and the light on their face has a light blue hue? This is the light that mimics the sun’s daylight.)
The Importance of Sunlight During the Day
A good way to ensure and maintain healthy synchronization of your circadian clock, be sure to get bright sunlight exposure during the day. Indoor environments aren't intense enough for this anchor of daylight, so try to get outdoors for at least 30 - 60 minutes. This circadian rhythm anchor will make you less prone to drifting if you’re exposed to light later in the evening. Solar noon is a great time for this, but the best time is definitely the morning when you wake. If not either of those times any daylight is good for you to get. Jack Kruse writes about morning sun exposure and the benefits of here --- reading his work
Understanding Light Measurement - Lux:
Although your light will disrupt your circadian rhythm, it will not reset it like the sun will, since it’s not the same. It’s all about lux. Lux is a measure of light brightness as seen by the human eye.
For comparison purposes,
- Moonlight is about 1 lux.
- A bright-lit office is about 400 lux.
- An overcast day is about 2,000 lux.
- A spring day is about 40,000 - 60,000 lux.
- A bright summer sunlight is about 120,000 lux! (7).
Can you see why getting outside makes such a difference? Not to mention the beneficial effects of UV exposure on the skin.
Studies have shown that blue and UV light has the most impact since it comes from the sun, with the highest levels of blue light reaching earth around midday. I should also point out that when I talk about blue light it doesn’t have to be just blue light. White light from a fluorescent bulb or midday sun, for example, is comprised of blue light. As the sun starts going down, the light becomes more orange and red in color preparing your circadian rhythm for a change. (as shown in the photo on the left). It is also important to note that the body senses light not only through the eyes but through the skin as well (2).
- Modern LED and Fluorescent light bulbs use more blue than candles or incandescent light bulbs. This would provide benefit during the day, but bad for you at night when you need them. Therefore a candle or incandescent light bulb is the way to go. (see more solutions below)
Summary: Morning Sun exposure to your skin and eyes is vital for optimal circadian rhythm functioning and setting. If you work indoors, aim to go outside for brief spells during the day.
What is the connection between light, circadian rhythm, and sleep? The answer is melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in response to darkness. It is commonly referred to as the 'sleep hormone’ but it also plays a vital role in controlling inflammation levels in our body while aiding our immune system (and why, if you have a few bad nights of sleep, you’ll often catch a bug or become run down). It achieves this through its powerful antioxidant properties, so it is important to understand that fixing your sleep is more important than any antioxidant supplement you may be thinking of taking.
Melatonin is generated after about 4 hours of darkness (you shouldn’t be able to see your hand in front of your face kind of darkness) and generally peaks around 2am. It runs opposite to cortisol. When melatonin is high, cortisol is low. In this state, you should be sleepy. When melatonin is low, cortisol is high. You should feel alert and energized for the day.
Modern technology is the worst source of blue light in today’s environment. A study appearing in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled, “Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing and next morning alertness” found that "The use of light-emitting devices ... before bedtime prolongs the time it takes to fall asleep, delays the circadian clock, suppresses ... melatonin, reduces the amount and delays the timing of REM sleep, and reduces alertness the following morning." (8)
We can see that modern LED and fluorescent lights contain high amounts of blue light. The researchers who created this chart also tested how each light sources impacted melatonin. They also found that high levels of blue light had the greatest effect on melatonin suppression. Brightness was also a determining factor.
There’s a really good site that shows you the light output of various devices, ranging from the iPhone to streetlights. It’s called fluxometer It will also show how bright the light from a device is compared to daylight and the resulting circadian rhythm phase shift. I’ve attached a screenshot from the iPhone 6 report. You can see how the blue light spikes on the left
Takeaway: Light exposure at night shuts down melatonin production with blue light having a huge impact compared to red light. Blue light sources include modern light bulbs, computer screens, cell phones, and TVs.
Here are the Best Ways I have found to Synchronize Circadian Rhythm:
• Clinically proven to boost mood and energy and fight winter blues in just 15 minutes
• goLITE BLU energy light produces a particular kind of pure blue light that occurs naturally on very sunny, clear days. Special receptors in the eyes absorb this blue light which makes you feel energetic whenever you need it.
• Just place goLITE BLU in your field of vision (for 15 - 45 minutes or more with timer) while you do your work - no need to look directly into the light.
(Click photo for blulight link)
Get an Earthing Mat
Use F.Lux on computer and phone
This F.lux is software that changes the color of your screen based on the time of day. As the sun goes down, the screen eliminates blue light using more red. (and it’s free)
The solution to fixing our sleep is to eliminate artificial light at night. A 2013 study even found that one week of camping with no artificial lights (not even flashlights), synchronized the circadian clocks of the eight study subjects with the timing of sunrise and sunset. (12)
Here are some suggestions on how to do it without giving up your lifestyle:
Increasing light during the day:
- Wake up and get outside within 30 minutes. Aim to maximize skin and eye exposure to the sun. This means no glasses and ideally, your shirt off. 20 minutes is a good amount, but even 5 minutes will be beneficial.
- If you work indoors, take breaks every few hours and go outside. If possible, work in a well lit (ideally from natural light) environment.
- During your lunch break, get outside for a good dose of UV-B sunlight. UV-B is needed for Vitamin D synthesis and only hits the earth’s surface in the middle of the day (depending on location and season).
Decreasing light at night:
- Replace all your LED and fluorescent light bulbs with incandescent bulbs. Or better yet, don’t even have main lights and simply use candles.
- Within an hour of sunset, switch off all overhead lights, especially LED or fluorescents. Instead, light candles (or you could use less than optimal LED fake candles). Alternatively, use a low wattage incandescent Himalayan rock salt lamp. I use one and it puts out a nice orange hue while releasing beneficial negative ions. In addition to dimming your lights and/or using salt lamps for illumination, there are also special blue light-blocking bulbs you can buy.
- If you want to read in bed and don’t want to read by candlelight, use a low wattage incandescent light bulb (15w or lower is best) in your bedside lamp.
- Ideally, restrict all artificial light sources 2 hours prior to bed - No TV, no computer, no phones, no eReaders. Buy books instead of reading eBooks or print articles. Talk with your partner over candlelit dinner. Listen to the radio. Switch off. Relax, Meditate or read my book! (That aught to put you right to sleep, Click the picture on the right 😉
- If you must use a screen in the hours leading up to bed, install f.lux. F.lux is free software that eliminates blue light on your screen after sunset. https://justgetflux.com/ On your phone, try 'Twilight' for Android. Another option is to invert the colors of your iPhone screen. If you have to watch TV, play with the color temperature and brightness settings to reduce blue light.
- Wear blue blocker glasses. These are vital if you are going to be looking at screens late at night (even if f.lux is installed). Yes, it may sound ridiculous, but sleep is important. They’re great for those times you have to use your phone right before bed. These help drastically! (click photos below for links)
- Sleeping in a pitch-black room is vital. You shouldn’t be able to see your hand in front of your face. Install blackout curtains, cover any small DVD time lights with black tape and put towels at the base of doors where light enters.
- Turn off or cover any electronic devices that glow or put out the light. Replace digital clocks with analog clocks. If you have to have an LED clock, opt for one with a red display, and set it on its dimmest setting.
- Wear an eye mask. Our eyelids are translucent and studies have shown that even a small amount of light perceived through closed eyelids can disrupt circadian rhythm and your sleep quality. So best to cover them. I like this eye mask since it is anti-aging and does not dry out your skin like most other fabrics. (click photo for link)
- If you must get up during the night, don’t turn on lights and if possible wear your mask. If you really need light, look at having a low wattage incandescent lamp in the bathroom. (click photo for link)
- Shut off wireless routers and remove metal alloy from your body.
- Gold, silver earrings, nose rings, belly button rings and others can act as an antenna increasing the electromagnetic frequencies in your body disrupting your circadian rhythm and energy body. People who have tried this after many other things that did not work notice a big difference. IF you have to have something in the piercing use bamboo or glass. Shut off all wireless products and get them out of your room as well.
What are the ideal times to sleep?
According to Ayurvedic principles the best times to sleep and eat are:
- 10pm – 6am – Sleep
- before 8am – eat a light to moderate breakfast
- noon – 1pm – eat a big lunch
- 6pm – eat a light dinner.
Your digestion and sleep system does well with a schedule. When you eat and sleep at these times you will have predictable bowel movements and an easier time going to sleep at 10PM.
Wake up at 3AM every night?
Are you waking up at certain times every night? - See what that means based on the Chinese body clock here
- Unfortunately, Sleep synchronization may take a few weeks to reset your circadian rhythm so check out my blog on herbs and other techniques here for getting to sleep since I never recommend sleeping pills.
Still not Convinced of the power of light?
(here are more studies)
If you’re still not convinced that artificial light at night can impact circadian rhythm, melatonin secretion, and sleep, then here are a few more studies to prove my point:
A paper in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, titled, “Exposure to Room Light before Bedtime Suppresses Melatonin Onset and Shortens Melatonin Duration in Humans” found that "Compared with dim light, exposure to room light before bedtime suppressed melatonin, resulting in a later melatonin onset in 99.0% of individuals and shortening melatonin duration by about 90 min. Also, exposure to room light during the usual hours of sleep suppressed melatonin by greater than 50% in most (85%) trials." (9)
Another study on dim light exposure at night was shown to disrupt circadian rhythms and lead to increases in body weight (10). What is dim light? The study used a light source emitting 5 lux’s of light. Remember, moonlight is about 1 lux. So that green charging light glowing on your bedside table could be impacting your sleep.
Resources and References
For more on this subject, I highly recommend reading the book, Lights Out. Sleep, Sugar & Survival
2. Castro, R, Angus, DC & Rosengart, MR. The effect of light on critical illness. Crit Care (2011). at http://www.biomedcentral.com/
4. Fernandez, F, Lu, D, Ha, P, Costacurta, P & Chavez, R. Dysrhythmia in the suprachiasmatic nucleus inhibits memory processing. Science (2014). at http://www.sciencemag.org/
5. Burke, T. M. et al. Effects of caffeine on the human circadian clock in vivo and in vitro. Sci Transl Med 7, 305ra146 (2015).
6. Bechtold, DA, Gibbs, JE & Loudon, A. Circadian dysfunction in disease. Trends in pharmacological sciences (2010). at http://www.sciencedirect.com/
7. Theories of Light: From Descartes to Newton.
8. Chang, A.-M. M., Aeschbach, D., Duffy, J. F. & Czeisler, C. A. Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 112, 1232–7 (2015).
9. Gooley, J. J. et al. Exposure to room light before bedtime suppresses melatonin onset and shortens melatonin duration in humans. J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 96, E463–72 (2011).
10. Fonken, LK & Aubrecht, TG. Dim light at night disrupts molecular circadian rhythms and increases body weight. Journal of biological … (2013). at http://jbr.sagepub.com/
11. Higuchi, S, Motohashi, Y & Ishibashi, K. Influence of eye colors of Caucasians and Asians on suppression of melatonin secretion by light. American Journal of … (2007). doi:10.1152/ajpregu.00355.2006
12. Wright, KP, McHill, AW, Birks, BR & Griffin, BR. Entrainment of the human circadian clock to the natural light-dark cycle. (2013).
By utilizing the information presented on this site, you agree to and understand that author, Bill Farr is not a doctor or any other type of certified health care professional, and his opinion is not a substitute for professional medical prevention, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult with your doctor or your other health care providers concerning your symptoms and medical requirements before following any of the remedies or other suggestions he offers. His opinion is based on his own research and is to be used for educational purposes only. Bill Farr’s wellness plans and advice are meant to be used in conjunction with standard allopathic or osteopathic medical treatment and care.