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Trouble Sleeping Giving You the Blues?

What’s wrong? You’ve done everything to improve your sleep. You’ve made the bedroom a serene retreat, you tuck in on a natural mattress with organic bedding, the room’s cool, your fur-kids who used to hog the mattress now have organic pet beds, you’ve cut back on caffeine…so why can’t you sleep?

Outshining the stars

We live in a hyper-lit world. Artificial lighting turns night into day. Televisions, computers and other devices can keep us connected 24/7. These inventions are all marvels — and they also represent a sea-change in how human life works.

Here’s the rub: our bodies work the same way they always have. Our primitive brains are wired for something they rarely receive any more…true darkness after the sun goes down. Sleep-wise, there’s a dark side to all that light. Computer screens, TVs, even energy-efficient light bulbs — all emit a brain-stimulating wavelength of light that seriously undermines sleep.

Too much light at night just isn’t good for us. Night-time light exposure has been linked not just to sleep problems, but also to increased risks for breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Hello darkness, our old friend

We are circadian creatures, and our natural biorhythms didn’t change just because in a single generation, our lives began to include hours of staring into bright electronic screens. Even if you don’t go to bed with the chickens, your brain still needs to be notified that the time for sleep is approaching. Evening light is telling your brain, “Party on, stay awake!” Biochemically, exposure to light (especially to blue-spectrum light) suppresses your brain’s production of the hormone melatonin, which is critical for sound sleep.

But how practical is it to give up evening light? You may not be able to go cave-style or spend all your evenings by candlelight, but don’t despair. These savvy strategies can help your brain reclaim its readiness for sleep.

  1. Soak up the sunlight. During the day, that is…especially first thing in the morning. A quick walk before you disappear into an office will boost your ability to sleep at night (and boost your mood all day). So will daytime walk breaks in natural light.
  2. Light your evenings with a rosy glow. Red (or amber or orange) light has the smallest effect on natural biorhythms and melatonin production. Use amber nightlights, and change your bedside bulb to a pink one for reading before sleep.
  3. Let the sun set on your computer. If you must be online at night, install a free software program like this one that gradually alters your screen’s brightness to match the waning light. As much as you can, avoid looking into bright screens for two to three hours before bed.
  4. Sport more orange. These glasses may look funny, but if you’re serious about blocking evening blue light, they’ll help your brain wind down. You can also buy tinted screens for TVs and computer monitors that help accomplish the same thing.

Reconsidering candelight? It’s not only romantic but restful, too. Just don’t forget to blow out every candle before you go to bed! Sleep well.

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