Greetings, fellow humans!
Spring has sprung, and for many of us that brings a renewed interest in fitness, outdoor play, and renewal.
If you are looking to "Get fit", lose excess body fat, increase you productivity and performance, or just be healthy, happy, and energetic, there is almost nothing more important than quality sleep. Sadly, the question for many of us is...
For most of my life, I have been a night owl. For years I thought that my "natural tendency" was to stay up till about 2 or 3am and sleep until noon.
I now openly admit that my "Natural tendency" was actually an artificially induced habit. Unfortunately, this habit is quite common in modern society and our mental and physical health are suffering from it. As a population, most folks in the USA get inadequate amounts of sleep, and poor quality sleep.
For today's post, I want to address two major factors affecting our sleep: Light and Faces. I'm pretty convinced that artificial light is the biggest factor we need to be aware of.
Picture how life would have been for any person alive just a few hundred years ago. You don't need to be a biologist to know this is what every part of our human DNA expects to happen:
- Regardless of your position in life, you likely spent a lot of time outside. (lots of daylight)
- You encountered all the people in your life face to face.
- You moved a lot, or maybe just a little, depending on the particular day.
- When the sun went down, it was dark.
- If there was any light at night it came from a candle or a fire. (Orange light, with no "blue light" in the spectrum)
- Perhaps you talked with your family and/ or tribe a little, but you could barely see them.
- Night time was dark, quiet, and basically "face free".
- Soon after the sun was down, you very likely went to sleep.
- Except for the pale (and not very bright) light of the moon, there was no light in the "blue" end of the spectrum. Ever... For all of human history.
However, if we fast-forward to life in modern society, this is our new "normal":
- we spend the vast majority of our day indoors. (very little daylight)
- we have brilliantly lit homes
- we stay awake far past sunset in a beautiful, full color, artificial daylight world
- the last thing most of us do before we attempt sleep is look at a computer, tablet, or phone
Our brains interpret all of these cues based on what natural "Normal" is. However, we are accidentally "lying to our brains":
- The minimal natural sunlight many of us get gives a weak signal of when "daytime" is.
- The modern lights in our homes tell the brain "Daytime!" even after sunset. According to Harvard Health publications "Study after study has linked working the night shift and exposure to light at night to several types of cancer (breast, prostate), diabetes, heart disease, and obesity."
- Every time we see a well lit face, our brain thinks "Daytime!"
We have old sayings that illustrate the unhealthy behavior of staying up late:
- "burning the midnight oil"
- "burning the candle at both ends"
Of course, we know that these mean someone is doing too much, wearing themselves out, and living in a way that will soon bring them harm...
"Is blue light the new smoking"?
According to a very interesting interview on the "Rewild Yourself" podcast exposure to even a few seconds of full spectrum lights (like the bulbs in your bathroom right now) causes severe suppression of our melatonin. This can have grave consequences for our health.
So... What can we do about it?
- Figure out when you plan to wake up, then set an alarm for about 10-11 hours before that. When the alarm goes off, it's time to start your winding down period. This alarm is the time when you will put on your "sunset glasses" (see below). Hopefully, you will also turn off your "Glowing Rectangles" (computers, TVs, iPads, and cell phones.)
- A cheap "bio hack" is to use blue blocking goggles. (In my house we call them sunset glasses) If you need a pair to go over prescription glasses, look here. This simple tool will greatly reduce your blue light exposure after dark. Admittedly, they won't win you any fashion points, but they are a great way to fight technology with technology! These lenses block the blue light that is telling the base of your brain "DAYTIME!"
- Install f.lux on whatever "Glowing Rectangle" devices you can. (It's free!)
- If you have an iPhone, here's a great hack to shift your phone red at night!
- Black out your bedroom using blackout curtains or opaque window inserts
- (Another option for dark sleep is a bed tent)
- since we all must spend some time on a computer, attempt to do "Glowing Rectangle" items in the morning, when we WANT to wake up our brain rather than before bed.
- intentionally seek outdoor time during the day to get full spectrum daylight when you WANT your brain to get a "daytime" signal.
Here’s a flashlight with independent switches for a single red led (no melatonin disruption) as well as 5 very bright white LEDs (for "emergency use only” in my opinion):
many headlamps offer red led settings as well. It looks like this one has a separate switch for the red lights.
Here’s a very interesting podcast discussing the very serious implications blue light and melatonin disruption. "Is blue light the new smoking"?
Of course, there are lots of other reasons for poor sleep including chronic stress (Get a massage!) , caffeine and other stimulants, poor movement and exercise habits, (Schedule a fitness session!) and malnutrition.
Whether your goals are to be more productive, live longer, lose excess fat, or just feel better on a daily basis... You NEED QUALITY SLEEP!
OK, now go outside and play!
Much love and respect, -Mo the human
For those who want to geek out a little more on the science stuff: