Using light to sleep better
You could say I am obsessed with using light to support my patient’s treatment whether they have insomnia, sleep apnoea, narcolepsy, nightmares…. Light is SO influential on our sleep wake cycles. It helps regulate melatonin production (sleepy hormone which we need to prepare our bodies for sleep) when used at the right times of day. That is – plenty of light in the first 2 thirds of the day especially the morning, and then less light towards bed-time. Yet we fumble around in the dark in the mornings and are BUZZING on light orientated technology at night! It doesn’t help that the weather can be variable wherever you are and you’re not guaranteed that light exposure if you go outside. The power of light doesn’t have to be natural either – artificial light can be just as affective.
It’s not just those of us with sleep problems that could do with the extra light at the right times. Even good sleepers see an improvement in the quality of their sleep and lots of other bodily processes when regulating their light, like how hungry and full they get and how alert and happy they are. I decided to take an unsuspecting friend who like most of us, sometimes finds their sleep out of whack. She was adamant there was nothing I could do – she didn’t have a rip roaring sleep condition so she didn’t need a sleep program…did she? I equipped her with some Sleepyhead strategies and a light alarm from Lumie – a light that wakes you up in the morning without any noise and can give you enough light exposure that it can fix the timing of sleep when used with the right strategy. Also, if you are partial to Seasonal Affective Disorder (feeling sad and low especially during winter months)..it can significantly impact on this too. A win win!
This is what my friend and her cat ‘Dash’ had to say…
“If sleeping were a sport, I’d be the reigning world champion. Pick any phrase about sleeping well and I’m you’re gal. Sleep like the dead? Yep! Sleep like a baby? Yep! Asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow? Hells to the yep! This year, however, an extended period of poor health wreaked havoc on my sleep routine. I was still sleeping soundly, but I was going to bed and waking up much later than usual. While I was off work this wasn’t a problem, but as my health improved and I prepared to return to work, I knew a bed time of midnight and a wake time of 9am simply wasn’t going to cut it. Enter the Lumie and Steph’s quick fire strategies to get sleep back on track! On the advice of Stephanie Romiszewski (Sleepyhead Clinic, Exeter), I used the Lumie plus the Sleepyhead strategies for a few weeks and was amazed at the difference they made. I set the Lumie to light up at the same time each day (that’s one of Steph’s rules) and within a matter of days my wake time had shifted back to 7am. When I first started using it and following what seemed like hard rues, I had serious doubts about whether the little lights and a few behavioural changes would be strong enough to pull me out of a deep sleep, so I set an alarm on my phone just in case. But I needn’t have bothered! The Lumie plus my consistency with the rules was reliable and effective. It was also a much gentler way to wake up. No more being jerked out of whatever pleasant dream I’m having about Liev Schreiber by a screeching iPhone alarm! The instructions were easy to follow and the Lumie has a very slim profile, making it an easy addition to any bedside table. I used the Lumie and the sleep strategies as the UK headed into summer, but I’m really looking forward to seeing how it goes in the long, dark days of winter.”
So if you don’t perceive yourself to have a sleep problem, but you would like to improve the quality of your sleep and feel refreshed when you wake up…this was Siobhan’s sleep rules specifically to help with the timing of her sleep and prep her for her work after a stint of poor health:
- Use a Light alarm that has at least 10,000 lux of light output. (We used the Lumie Zest available here)
- Set the light alarm for the same time every day –yes including weekends!
- Only go to bed when you are sleepy tired (not because the clock dictates it, or you think you should… give yourself permission to stay up later or go to bed earlier, but only if you need to!)
- Turn down the brightness of tech at night, and stick to lamps rather than overhead lights
These rules aren’t forever, but they are one of the quickest ways to get sleep back on track when you need it the most.
Dr Siobhan O’Dwyer is an Australian academic who moved to England. With a busy job that combines research, teaching, and lots of international travel, good sleep is essential for her professional success. Siobhan also has a chronic illness and has found self-care – including diet, exercise, and quality sleep – to be the most important part of managing her condition. Siobhan shares her home with Dash, a one-year-old Norwegian Forest Cat who loves cuddles, Netflix, and Marmite. Dash also helped road-test the Lumie and the sleep schedule and gave it two paws up!
Sleep well Sleepyheads!