Many people with sleep problems are affected by light, with too much or too little making things worse. Different types of light can also affect how you sleep and can change your natural sleep cycle. Understanding and controlling light in your bedroom can make it easier to sleep well at the right times.
Often changes in light levels at different times of year make insomnia better or worse. Whatever the underlying cause of your sleep problems, light changes can be a complicating factor, so it’s worth thinking about whether your insomnia is worse at particular times of year.
For some insomniacs, summer is the hardest time, because long light evenings made it hard to feel sleepy and bright mornings prompt early waking. Others have problems in autumn and winter because a short day means the body struggles to follow a natural sleep cycle, whilst general low light levels can cause depression. Even mild depression can interfere with the ability to sleep.
If you find it hardest to sleep in the winter, try to get outside more during the daylight hours. The average pale skinned person needs at least fifteen minutes per day to be healthy, with dark skinned people needing as long as forty five minutes. Doing some exercise first thing in the morning and having a meal or snack just before bed will help to keep your natural cycle working.
If you struggle in the summer, try closing your curtains at 8pm even if it’s still light outside. Invest in heavy curtains with a valance across the top so that no light will leak in if you don’t want it to. Wearing a sleep mask can help, though some users find them uncomfortable.
Getting woken by light early in the mornings can largely be controlled by having good curtains, but this doesn’t always work if you share your bedroom. It only takes a small amount of daylight to trigger wakefulness in most insomniacs, so bedroom doors opened by partners who get up earlier can also be a problem. In this instance, consider getting a curtained four poster bed – less expensive than you might think – or rearranging large items like wardrobes to shield your bed.
Morning light contains a particular range of light frequencies that make us feel alert. If your partner needs light in the mornings when you need to sleep, switching on a soft bedroom lamp may be less problematic than opening the curtains.
If you have trouble waking up, especially in winter, or if you have an erratic sleep cycle, more morning light may be what you need. Sun lamps with timers can be a great investment, helping you to wake up naturally by gradually brightening your room.
Colours of Light
Just as the frequencies in morning light make us more alert, other frequencies can help us to relax. Controlling the colours of light you are exposed to during your day can help you to control your sleep patterns so that you feel alert and sleepy at the right times.
In the daytime, harsh, blue-white light can make us feel more alert, which is one of the reasons why many offices are equipped with fluorescent strip-lights. Too much of this stimulus, however, can lead to fatigue. If you can, take breaks from environments like this when you start to feel stressed and have difficulty concentrating. Spend ten minutes outside or in an area with softer, yellower lighting. This should leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed.
In the evenings, gradually dimming lights at home can help you to feel sleepy. Avoid blue or green lights, which stimulate the production of melatonin, keeping you awake. Soft pink-toned light will let your body know that it’s the end of the day and time to relax.