Exposure to too much light at night could be putting your overall health at risk. A breakthrough study demonstrated that exposure to light when trying to sleep can wreak havoc on the body’s cardiovascular and glucose regulation. These disturbances can lead to a host of health complications in the short term and down the road.
Here is what you need to know about the impact of light exposure at night and what you can do to facilitate a better night’s sleep for optimal health.
The Effect of Light on the Sleep Cycle
Your body’s natural circadian rhythms are thrown off when you are exposed to light during the nighttime hours. Disruptions to these rhythms influence the brain’s production of the hormone melatonin, a necessary ingredient in encouraging a good night of sleep. This is why light exposure before or during bedtime makes it challenging to fall asleep and stay that way.
It is not enough to simply fall asleep at a designated time. If you fall asleep with too much light exposure in your sleeping environment, your body may not get the necessary amount of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Without this deep and restorative sleep, you will wake up feeling groggy and not rested.
Nighttime Light Exposure Harms Cardiovascular and Glucose Regulation
In addition, emerging research suggests that the impacts of too much light exposure go far beyond simply feeling tired and cranky the next day. A new Northwestern Medicine study revealed that just one night of exposure to moderate light while sleeping can disrupt glucose and cardiovascular regulation. This impairment is a significant risk factor for the development of diabetes, heart disease and various metabolic syndromes.
In the study, the researchers discovered that the body experienced a greater amount of insulin resistance after sleeping in a light room. This type of resistance contributes to an increase in blood sugar levels, putting you at risk of developing diabetes.
The study also found that the heart rate accelerates after sleeping in a room with light. This happens even if you are able to fall asleep because the autonomic nervous system is triggered in response to the light. An elevated heart rate during the nighttime hours can put you at risk for a host of cardiovascular issues.
Other Negative Impacts of Light at Night
The negative impacts of light at night do not stop with a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease. There is also the potential of a correlation between too much light at night and depression, with blue light being the biggest offender.
Nighttime light exposure can also lead to unintended weight gain, raising your risk of obesity. Scientists hypothesize this is because inadequate sleep often leads to overeating the next day. Other negative effects of nighttime light include an increased risk of accidents due to fatigue.
Experts caution that there are very few advantages to sleeping with the lights on. A small amount of light could be beneficial if you are simply trying to take a quick nap during the day and do not want to sleep for too long. In addition, young children may find comfort in a nightlight. However, this exposure to light should be weaned as they age if you are concerned about the quality of sleep that they are getting each night. The takeaway is that it is much better to err on the side of darkness when sleeping.
How to Minimize Light Exposure as You Sleep
After learning about the latest research on the impact of light as you sleep, you are probably wondering how you can minimize exposure to light at night. Here are a few tips that you can follow.
Use Room Darkening Shades or Eye Masks
If you live in an urban area where light pollution is common, room darkening shades can help to mitigate some of this brightness. Eye masks are another useful tool if you are aiming to avoid light from filtering into your brain.
There is no doubt that the presence of blue light is highly disruptive to sleeping patterns. If you know that you have a tendency to reach for your phone or tablet when you cannot sleep, it is a good idea to remove electronics from the room completely.
Establish a Nighttime Routine
Most people react well to an established nighttime routine. Making an effort to fall asleep and wake up at the same general times each day can train your body to sleep well despite the presence of light.
Use the Right Lights
If you must use a light occasionally in the bedroom, it is imperative that you avoid bright lighting. A dimmer switch can be extremely helpful in this situation. Light that is amber or orange in color is also less disruptive to sleep patterns than blue light.
The bottom line is that healthy sleep cycles are dependent on your access to a quiet and dark place. Too much light streaming into your sleeping environment can have detrimental impacts on your overall health, making it important that you do what you can to minimize this exposure.