Light and Your Health - Part 2 - Lucy Barrett

Did you know that 33%-45% of Australians suffer with insomnia or poor sleeping habits? And the most alarming part is that the statistics are rising.

We all know sleep is important to our overall health, but sometimes it is overlooked as a major contributor to disease. For example, the related risks of sleep disorders are things like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. Obviously the effects of shorter-term sleep deprivation also means poor memory, fatigue, loss of productivity, mood disorders and irritability. As a Naturopath, I am always wondering about sleep and its effect on your blood sugar levels, cardiovascular, adrenal and mental health.

Sleep Hygiene

This is the term that describes the habits we keep to get a good nights sleep. These are things like what our bedtime routine is like and how stimulated we are by light, sugar, caffeine and stress before sleep. It also includes the environment we sleep in and how we pattern ourselves into a good or poor nights rest.

Life is Rhythm

Our sleep works on a cycle called the circadian rhythm. This internal clock regulates sleeping, feeding patterns, alertness, core body temperature, brain wave activity, hormone production, regulation of glucose and insulin, urine production and cell regeneration. Yep, that's a lot! Sleep matters.

The Light Connection

The most important hormones affected by the circadian rhythm and sleep are Melatonin and Cortisol. Melatonin is made in the brain, and cortisol from the adrenal glands. In the natural way of things, light diminishes as the day ends (sunset) and our bodies respond by making melatonin. This prepares us to drop into a good sleep state. In the morning, as the light increases (sunrise), it triggers the production of cortisol which gets us up and at 'em in the morning. And on it goes, day after day. Or, at least our body likes it this way.

Detoxing from Light

Research shows that almost half of Australians are on the internet just before bed every night. That means being exposed to LED screens and blue rays of light. The blue wavelength of light supresses our melatonin production. Even having the lights on in our house may be impacting our melatonin production in a negative way but our phones, computer screens, TV screens and all LED lights are the worst.

What to do

Ideally we would all relax in a dim room for at least one hour before our usual bed time. Obviously in our modern world, that can be tricky. Here are my top 5 tips for better sleep and detoxing from blue wavelength light.

·       Avoid exposure to blue light 1-2 hours before bed. Talk to someone, read by candlelight, do some gentle stretching, meditate or listen to calming music before bed.

·       Grab some Blue Blocker sunglasses if you must be looking at a screen. Wear them for the 2 hours before bed.

·       Avoid eating dinner too close to bed time. Eating can stimulate cortisol, which is not what we want. We like melatonin at night time, not cortisol.

·       Drink calming herb teas in the afternoon and evening. Cinnamon, chamomile, lemon balm, lavender and valerian can be lovely.

·       Breathe and meditate. There are so many great apps if you are a tecno-whiz such as “The Breathing Zone” app for your phone or “Headspace” meditation apps for easy 10 minute pre-bed guided meditations.

Ask your Naturopath for more specific solutions if you have ongoing issues with sleep onset or maintenance.