One of our strongest cues to sleep at night is our body’s melatonin production. It increases dramatically when it’s time to go to bed, and shuts off almost entirely when we get up in the morning. Melatonin has been called the “darkness hormone” because it’s turned on by the lack of light … and turned off by the presence of light.
One of the reasons we are a society plagued by insomnia is that we live in a world full of light – even when it’s dark outside. In order to help melatonin along in helping us to sleep better, we need to manage that light. From Wikipedia:
“Production of melatonin by the pineal gland is inhibited by light to the retina and permitted by darkness. Its onset each evening is called the dim-light melatonin onset (DLMO).
It is principally blue light, around 460 to 480 nm, that suppresses melatonin, increasingly with increased light intensity and length of exposure. Until recent history, humans in temperate climates were exposed to few hours of (blue) daylight in the winter; their fires gave predominantly yellow light.”
As stated, melatonin seems to be affected most by light at the blue end of the spectrum. With this knowledge, there are five simple strategies you can start right away to make your life more “melatonin friendly”:
- Turn down lights inside the house in the evening. See if you can adjust the brightness of your TV set. Use fewer lights inside the house. Turn off the ones you don’t really need (ie: for reading).
- Block the blue light with eyeglasses. No, not everyday eyeglasses. Ones specifically designed to block blue light (some sunglasses do this).
- You can buy lightbulbs that supress the content of blue light. If your lightbulbs don’t produce it, they won’t block melatonin production.
- F.lux for your computer. There’s a free program available for download that monitors the time of day at your location (you give it longitude/latitude) and it adjusts your computer monitor accordingly … dimmer and with lower intenstity blue light in the evening.
- We’ve helped melatonin turn on during the evening, now lets help turn it off in the morning. Get some full spectrum light first thing in the morning. The best source is direct sunlight. Take a walk or eat breakfast by an east facing window.
The better job we do in helping melatonin performance, the better we sleep. It’s really that simple.