Poor sleep is so often a complaint I hear from my patients. I’m not talking about occasional restlessness, or “too much on your mind to sleep” nights. I’m talking about chronic poor sleep. Even though, there are several areas to investigate when it comes to poor sleep, my first logical question is, “Are there any lights or screens in your room?” The other areas I always test are adrenal dysfunction and blood sugar dysregulation, which can be fixed, but not that same night like avoiding light in your room can.
You may know that light emitted from screens, and to a lesser extent, even normal room light, can suppress melatonin production and disrupt our normal circadian rhythms. This can in turn lead to a shockingly wide range of problems, from an increased risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease to hormonal imbalances and cognitive decline. This is probably not news for most of you, but what you may not know is just how little light can be problematic.
In a recent study out of Japan, researchers found that exposure to even five lux of light significantly increased the risk of depression when compared to sleeping in a totally dark room. (To put this in perspective, 10 lux of light is like looking at a candle flame from about a foot away.) Here’s the kicker: this study was done on elderly adults, with an average age of 71 years. A teenager’s eyes have five times the capacity for light reception of a 70-year-old’s.
This means it’s even more important for kids, teens, and younger adults to sleep in a completely dark room. But with over half of teens and adults now sleeping with a phone in their bedroom, this isn’t happening. I believe that sleep deprivation is now an epidemic that is just as serious—if not more so—than the obesity epidemic. Yet it doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
Here are three steps you can take to reduce your exposure to light in the bedroom:
• Get blackout shades. In most urban and suburban environments, light from the street will invade your room—and as we’ve seen in this email, even that amount of light is problematic.
• Remove any devices that emit light. Yes, this includes your phone. But also digital alarm clocks (go analog) and anything else that glows in the dark.
• Wear a face mask. If your room isn’t completely dark even with the two steps above, wear a face mask. And take one with you when you travel and have less control over your environment.
Remember, it’s the smaller things that add up to make a big difference.