What You’ll Do: Your body’s built-in sleep cycle, known as your circadian rhythms, is largely controlled by the amount of light and dark you are exposed to during your day. By increasing light during the day and dark at night, you will fall asleep faster and sleep better.
How It Works: What makes you fall asleep are changes in the level of the hormone melatonin circulating in your body. During the day, light stimulates a part of the brain. This brain part (known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus) tells the pineal gland to decrease the melatonin level when it is light out and to increase it when it is dark. The brighter the light, the bigger the decrease and the darker the dark, the bigger the increase of melatonin. By making your days lighter and your nights darker, you can improve both the quality of your sleep and the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep.
Get Motivated: Good light/dark contrast in your day will give you sleep that feels refreshing. You will become a sleep master. You will feel less tired during the day and sleep better at night.
- Bright Mornings: Start each day this week with as much bright light as possible. Don’t just turn on one small lamp for your morning rituals, turn on all the lights. While you are eating breakfast, keep as many lights on as possible. Open the shades and curtains and let the sun shine in.
- Light Days: Try to get as much exposure to bright light as possible during your day. If you can, get outside. Sunlight is the best light for your sleep cycle. Take sunlight breaks during the day. Open the shades, turn on all the lights and look out the window (if you are lucky enough to be near one).
- Dim Evenings: A couple of hours before bedtime, make things dim. Turn down the lights. Avoid the computer (which is really just a giant light that you put close to your face) and sit far away from the TV. If you read, use a directed reading light, rather than large lamps or overhead lights that brighten the whole room. Pull the curtains and draw the shades. Don’t turn on too many lights while getting ready for bed. A dim light in the bathroom or closet is enough.
- Dark Nights: Make your nights as dark as possible. Draw the curtains, close the shades and keep the lights off. Try a sleep mask if you can’t get eliminate enough light. The darker your night, the quicker you will fall asleep.
- Good quality light at work can be hard to come by. A full-spectrum light can really help. They are pricey, but improved sleep is well worth it.
- If you can get 45 minutes of exposure to bright sunlight, research shows that doing so can help keep your sleep cycle on track. You can do this by sitting outside or near a window during your lunch time.
- The most important time to get light exposure is in the morning. If you can get outside during the morning, it will greatly improve your sleep quality. Go for a run, do some gardening or just sit outside to have your breakfast if you can.
To really see if changing the light/dark contrast can affect you, make your house dark several hours before bed. If you are watching TV, look away during commercials. Keep your eyes on the dark parts of your home as much as possible. Chat on the phone in evening with the lights off to create darkness while keeping yourself busy. Set up a reading/writing station with a small desk lamp to use before bed, rather than lighting the whole room.
Remember, try this skill for a whole week before moving on. It is important that you master this skill in order to reach your goal.
Here is the whole program. Give each one a solid one-week try, and then come back and do the next one. If you want a reminder, sign up for the Fall Asleep Faster E-course. It is free and you'll short e-mail reminders each day to help keep you on track.