When you turn in for the night, how dark is your bedroom?
Chances are, various devices in your bedroom- even when in off mode- emit some light, even when they’re in off mode. Think about the small illumination LED light from your TV or the on/off switch of any LED lights that glow whether the light is on or off.* Think about the light from the face of your digital alarm clock, if you have one. Think about your partner’s late night reading or phone scrolling next to you. For city dwellers, think about the lights from the street that beam into your bedroom. For those in rural areas, think about the moonlight that streams in through your window.
For optimal sleep, our bodies like total darkness.
In an ideal world, you could wave your hand in front of your face in your bedroom and not see your hand. This is why many of us sleep so well when we go camping: we generally don’t have any lights with us, so our body’s circadian rhythm is in tune with nature’s light and dark cycles: when it’s light, we’re awake. When it’s dark, it’s time for sleep.
When we have too much light in our bedrooms in the evenings, however, it interferes with our sleep hormone, melatonin, in two ways. First, the artificial light delays melatonin’s onset, so you don’t feel as sleepy as early as you would otherwise. Second, it decreases the overall duration of the melatonin that night. Back to the camping example — this is why some of us feel ready to crawl into our sleeping bags as soon as it’s dark out, because we feel tired. When we see it’s only 8 pm, we laugh, but our bodies are truly ready for sleep when it’s dark out.
So, what can you do?
When you turn in tonight, check out your bedroom environment. Can you cover anything that lights up? For example, cover any pesky LED buttons. If you have a digital alarm clock, turn it away from you, or better yet, cover it with a piece of clothing. If you have bright lights, consider swapping them out for low wattage incandescent bulbs and/or dimmer lights to use in the evening. If you wake up in the middle of the night, try to rely on nightlights or spatial memory to get to and from the bathroom rather than turning on bright overhead lights which could make it harder to fall back asleep.
While few of us are staying in hotels these days, if you do find yourself in a bedroom not your own, drape clothing or towels over the offending devices before you go to bed. Invest in an eye mask. They’re affordable, they don’t take up much space or weight in your carry-on, and they can make the difference between a restless night of sleep and a solid one. I have been using the MZOO eye mask for about a year- whether I’m at home or on the road. In contrast to the flimsy airline eye masks I used to wear, I find myself surprised every morning when the MZOO is still actually on my face, doing its job. And I find during these long summer days in Bozeman when it’s often light at 5:30 am, the MZOO allows me to get a bit more sleep in the morning hours than I would if I weren’t wearing an eye mask.
*This is one of the only examples I know of where good for the planet and good for the body are not aligned. While very efficient, LEDs keep you awake.