Darkness is critical to achieve restful sleep.
This may seem contrary to the goal of this site, to stay awake more, but it is actually the crux of everything we’ve done here. Quality, restful sleep in as little time as possible. Polyphasic sleep, and the uberman sleep schedule are all based on the idea that frequent sleeping on a schedule can achieve similar results to a traditional monophasic night’s rest. Darkness, or rather the absence of light, is extremely important to achieve that rest. More on that later. Before you attempt a polyphasic sleep schedule like uberman, you should figure out how to get a real night’s rest normally, without having to go to extremes sleeping schedules.
Melatonin is a very important in the process of going to sleep, as it increases drowsiness and lowers body temperature. Melatonin does a lot more than help you sleep. Melatonin deficiencies have been linked to autism aging, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. So, to say that we, as humans, have a vested interest in understanding melatonin, how it works, and how to emphasize its benefits is an understatement.
Why is light, or rather the absence of light important for sleep? Light of all kinds inhibits the release of melatonin. The worst offenders were the colors with shorter wavelengths, like blue and green. Red had the least effect on melatonin secretion. So, dimming or turning off all your lights around your house is very important. You knew that, but you are probably forgetting about quite a few lights around your house.
The invention of the lightbulb was one of the worst things for humans, as far as sleep is involved.
Artificial light has been wreaking havoc with our internal clocks since the 19th century, unbeknownst to most of us. The common light bulb enabled us to stay up later for both work and play, but also get up earlier. No longer were we tethered to the rise and fall of the sun for illumination. While this did benefit us in many ways, still to this day, no other invention has had such an all-encompassing assault on our natural sleeping patterns. Before the lightbulb, only candles were used, and only the very rich could afford to have enough light to regularly stay up late into the night. Most people slept when it was dark out because there wasn’t much else that could be done with the lights out. Today, unless you have blackout curtains, light from outside of your bedroom, from your neighbors, is leaking in around your mini-blinds, wrecking your sleep, and keeping you from a good night’s rest.
Your cell phone has a light in it, and probably produces the worst kind of light for sleep, blue. So does your computer monitor and television. Most older flat screen televisions use fluorescent light bars to light the screen, which emit very short wavelength light, plus some ultraviolet light. Newer LED based screens have two ways of creating white light. One is by combining red, green and blue, the second by using a blue or UV light and converting it to white light. The light from these devices can suppress more than 65% of your normal amount of melatonin secretion. Even the LEDs on your VCR can be bright if you leave them on.
Even once you are asleep, light can prevent true restful sleep. Someone driving through your neighborhood shines their lights inside your window, briefly lighting up your room. You groggily look around, realize it is a car, and go back to bed. Seems innocuous, if annoying, but this actually disturbed your normal brain wave pattern for sleep. Your significant other watching television after you fall asleep is not okay. The light (and sound!) from the television disturbs your sleep patterns, even if you can snooze through Craig Ferguson.
Steps to take to create a house that will help you get to sleep:
Computer and iPhone/iPad: Get f.lux. F.lux is a program that adapts your computer screen based on what time of day it is in your area.. It will be brighter in the morning and darker at night. It is touted that it makes your computer screen look like the room you are in. You shouldn’t be looking at screen the color of daylight late at night. F.lux is free, and is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and iPad/iPhone
Lighting: Start dimming your lights around dinner time. With the advent of compact fluorescent lightbulbs or lamps (CFL – the ones that look twisted) and LED lighting, you might consider having a “normal” incandescent light bulb around to use before bed.
Windows: Pull your curtains to stop outside lights from coming through. Most street lamps are sodium vapor lamps, and produce yellowish light, but it can still effect your sleep.
TV: Move the television out of your bedroom and into the living room. Flat screen televisions use either LED lights or fluorescent bulbs, which both give off blue light, suppressing melatonin secretion, keeping you alert
Finally, consider buying a sleep mask or some other sort of eye covering device to block out any and all remaining light.
Streetlight photo: Wyn van Devanter
Screen Photo: Chris Dlugosz