How light affects our sleep

Have you ever wondered how light affects our sleep. Also, why it’s so hard to get out of bed on a Monday? If you’re not a morning person, the reason could be down to lighting.

Luc Schlangen

Today we look at a recent white paper by Philips, innovators in lighting and health and well-being products. This paper reveals more about the relationship between light and sleep and how light affects our sleep. The white paper is titled “The effect of light on our sleep/wake cycle” by Luc Schlangen, principal scientist at Philips. This article gives an insight into how light changes our circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is a biological process found in most living things, including humans. Every person is controlled by their circadian rhythm, or body clock. This dictates when we feel alert or sleepy.

However, it is not naturally in sync with our artificial 24 hour clock. Circadian rhythm is generally slower, with an average time of around 24 hours and 30 minutes. This small difference makes us want to go to bed later and sleep a little longer each day. Unless it is regulated, the body’s circadian rhythm becomes out of sync with the 24 hour clock. This causes us to become more dependent on our alarm clocks in the morning. The Philips study found that, interestingly, light can actually help to reset our circadian rhythm every day.

How light affects sleep - Philips lighting study

 As outlined in the Philips white paper. A recent area of scientific research discovered a new type of photo receptor in the eye that regulates the sleep/wake cycle. When certain levels of bright light hit the photo receptor, the body clock is reset.

Using the sun to regulate their body clocks

Human beings naturally need a high level of light throughout the day to feel happy and healthy. In general, we need a lot of light on a morning. Less on an evening and very little light at night time. In the past, humans used the rising and setting of the sun to regulate their body clocks. Unfortunately, modern lives and busy work schedules mean we don’t often get the right amount of natural light during the day.

To fix this problem, artificial light can be used to replicate day light. Artificial light that mimics bright sunlight is effective at regulating the sleep/wake cycle. According to the Philips study, being exposed to bright artificial light at the start of the day can increase your mood and overall well-being as well as improving your sleep pattern.

Useful tips on using light to get a good night’s sleep

So, if you find yourself hitting the snooze button every time your alarm goes off, there could be a simple solution to make you feel more alert. Exposing yourself to bright light as soon as you wake up could help you to beat the Monday morning blues. Philips scientist Luc Schlangen gives some useful tips on using light to get a good night’s sleep and feel alert in the morning:

“For a good night’s sleep, make your bedroom sufficiently dark. Try to keep regular bedtimes. Avoid bright lights (particularly blue lights) in the last one to two hours before bedtime, and instead use warm lights (strong in red and yellow). Relax an hour or so before you go to bed and don’t use computers, mobile phones or anything that overstimulates you. Then, in the mornings, try to make sure you get enough light, and preferably bright light in the first one to two hours after waking.”

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