How Light Affects Our Sleep (And Overall Happiness)

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Anyone who has ever experienced insomnia can tell you that lack of sleep is one of the cruelest barriers to happiness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 25% of the U.S. population reports not getting enough sleep, and a whopping 10% reports chronic insomnia! Not only are we stressed, sick, and overweight in this country, but we are dangerously under-slept – and all of these circumstances undoubtedly have something to do with one another.

In addition to temperature, stress, and other factors, light has been shown to have a major effect on the circadian rhythm. Timing, intensity, and quality of light all play into either promoting or detracting from healthy sleep patterns. Imagine the difficulty night shift workers have to establish their sleep cycles! But even those of us who work regular hours and expect our sleep time to comfortably overlap with the dark hours can be negatively impacted by a disturbance in our light exposure. Think: computer and cellphone screens, artificial light, television, and the like.

Doctors and scientists in recent decades have developed light therapy treatment for various issues, including sleep disorders, and their results are promising. One study published in the American Psychological Association journal reported patients’ improvement in circadian rhythms after two hours of bright light exposure in the morning in conjunction with light restriction around bedtime. Another study published in Biological Psychiatry reported that bright light therapy can reduce the incidence of relapse in patients after other forms of sleep therapy – the results of which, by the way, may have a major affect of reducing depressive symptoms in patients with depression. The future looks bright, indeed.

Bright light therapy has also been shown to help treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD), as well as reduce the incidence of behavioral disorders in patients suffering from dementia. All evidence points to the fact that light gravely affects not only our sleep patterns, but also our minds, emotions, and overall pursuit of happiness. With that in mind, it’s heartening to know that there may be measures we can take, which include light therapy, to increase overall health and wellness.

 Here are some tips on promoting sleep health with light therapy:

  1. Put your phone, computer, and television away after dark, or at least close to bedtime. Those moments right before bed might seem like the perfect time to catch up on email or your favorite show, but doing so may inhibit your ability to fall asleep. So save it for the morning, and pick up a book or sketch pad, instead.
  2. Go to sleep a bit earlier to align your sleep rhythm more closely with the day. This is hard to do, especially if you’re a parent, student, or busy professional. But going to sleep earlier might just allow you to wake up a bit earlier, too, and not lose an inch of productivity!
  3. Try using candlelight and natural light as much as possible. Artificial light has been implicated in the growth of sleep disorders – and again, much of this has to do with laptops and television screens. Turn it off, unplug, and opt for natural light.
  4. Make sure your bedroom is lit (and unlit) as much as possible by natural light. For instance, keep it dark after dark and around bedtime, but be sure the morning sunlight makes it in, as well. Exposure to bright light upon awakening, as we mentioned, can help promote healthy circadian rhythms. So let the light in!

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