Light as a sleep aid?
As an insomnia specialist delivering a sleep therapy that uses no products or drugs to be effective, it is rare to come across something supplementary that I feel is worth exploring. That is, apart from light. And I use it all the time to treat patients. As its free and easily accessible for most of us, prescribing it is pretty easy! Light significantly suppresses melatonin levels. That’s the hormone responsible for regulating when we feel sleepy, and of course we need to feel sleepy to sleep, but we don’t want to feel like this in the morning. There has been such a surge of warnings about using phones/laptops and other light based technology in those hours leading up to bedtime – it is working against your body’s natural processes and can affect the quality of sleep. Therefore, light can be sleeps worst nightmare.
But light can also be extremely helpful at the right times of day. As it can affect our melatonin levels, it can help people who struggle with the timing of sleep (extreme larks or night owls for example). These types of problems are called circadian rhythm disorders and light products have been produced to help with this. Similarly, it is not just the hormone melatonin that is affected by light. Serotonin, (a mood stabiliser) which is often low in patients who suffer with depression can be increased with light, and so these light products are very helpful in the treatment of various mood disorders such as SAD (seasonal effective disorder), especially in an English winter where we don’t always get the brightest of mornings!
Lumie Dawn Simulator
The dawn simulator is one type of light product that aims to gradually brighten as your wake time approaches. This in theory could wake you slightly more naturally than a buzzing alarm and reduce the groggy feelings we get when waking in a dark room. This particular product interests me because part of the process of treating insomnia is to try and regulate the sleep routine. Waking up at the same time each day has a positive affect on our ability to maintain such a routine, but this can be quite hard to start with. We are so used to this not being a pleasant experience that we often will snooze and lie-in instead – but it generally doesn’t make things better. Wouldn’t it be nice if we woke up feeling refreshed and ready to start the day rather than groggy and grumpy in the dark?
I decided to put this to the test myself. Like most people, even as a sleep specialist I can have my off days. This is normal, but it would be nice to have a little pick me up when I need it the most – usually the dark winter mornings! My own goals were to see if I could get rid of my noisy alarm and have the light wake me gently instead. Having black out blinds, it’s common for me to wake up in pitch black. They are great for when I want to go to sleep quickly at night, but not that fun to wake up to in the mornings! I used the Lumie light box starter to see how it could help me. Lumie is a company that has developed various types of light products depending on your needs. They do several dawn simulator products and I chose the most basic model with no bells and whistles. When it comes to sleep, its best to keep things simple. We don’t need lots of gadgets and gizmos in the bedroom; in fact they can be quite detrimental. More expense does not always equal a better product.
The first time I used this product was on a Monday morning. If it wasn’t going to work, this would be the time. Most of us find the Sunday sleep rather daunting. The working week is coming and we put an exorbitant amount of pressure on ourselves to sleep well and get up early ready to go! The dawn simulator works by gradually building up the light from the device half an hour before your chosen alarm and then if you want it to, it will use a noise to wake you at your chosen time. I decided not to use the alarm. I wanted to see when and how I was awake during this ‘light building’ time and more importantly, how I felt.
I woke around 10 minutes before the alarm time. The room was light and getting lighter, and I felt awake and not groggy. The light seemed to help me wake around that alarm time when I was in my most light stage of sleep (this makes us feel much better than waking in deep sleep). I liked this not only because I felt good waking up, but I had a few minutes before my alarm to contemplate leaving the warmth of my bed on a cold winters morning! This is quite interesting because as a sleep specialist, I know that its possible for us to train our bodies to wake up feeling great, but this is not an overnight process, it takes time. The dawn simulator seemed to fast-forward that process making it easier to adhere to. As the week went on, I had the same results. Interestingly, on a day when I needed to get up earlier, I had the same results even when altering the alarm time. All in all, I have to say I’m impressed.
Eventually, it would be good to see a smart light bulb that can mimic a dawn simulator and have the capacity to be a brighter lux of light (to simulate a bright day – 10,000 lux of light) so that it can help with mood disorders and sleep/wake regulation, but also to be the right frequency in the evenings to aid melatonin production rather than hinder it. A light bulb would reduce the amount of products we need in our bedrooms keeping them clutter free and a more restful environment.
Of course, we don’t all need light products to make use of light! There are other ways to get light exposure such as an early morning run/walk and getting those curtains open early! But for those of us looking for an easy lazy boost, the dawn simulator could be helpful. Evidence that regulating your wake up time rather than snoozing and lying in, can help us be happier, brainier and dictate when we are hungry and when we are full (which can dictate weight gain/loss) amongst many other positive processes. That’s because many physiological processes do not regulate by the clock time on your wall, but by the internal clocks inside of us, that start the moment we wake up in the morning. Whilst I don’t usually look for quick fixes, this is one that might encourage good sleep practice, which leads to happier, healthier and brainier people!
For more advice on sleep or the use of light see the following article:
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