Snoring: Doctor explains how to sleep better at night
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Some people find they cannot get to sleep if there is even the faintest flicker of light in their bedroom. Now, new research published in the scientific journal PNAS suggests there is a strong health argument for sleeping in pitch black.
Sleep researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine found that exposure to even a small amount of ambient light during the night can be harmful to cardiovascular function while you sleep and increase insulin resistance the next morning.
Insulin resistance is a complication that can lead to the development of diabetes.
The study’s authors acknowledge the current and emerging scientific evidence that excessive evening light exposure may negatively impact metabolic functions, namely decreased glucose (blood sugar) tolerance and decreased insulin resistance.
Put simply, exposure to light before bedtime may be detrimental to sleep and some physiological functions.
Your brain uses the presence of light as a signal that it’s time to be awake and alert, and darkness as a signal that it’s time to shut down and sleep.
Light exposure activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and increases heart rate so you’re up and ready to take on the day.
At night, on the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) – your rest-and-digest system – should take the lead, promoting relaxation, decreasing heart rate, and maintaining a healthy metabolism.
And when the sun goes down and darkness sets in, the brain produces the sleep hormone melatonin, responsible for informing your system that it’s time to wind down and snooze.
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Therefore, exposure to light at night (from bedside lamps to TV screens) has been thought to suppress melatonin production and disrupt the healthy, natural pattern of sleep.
“Your eyes are your direct connection to the part of the brain that controls the circadian rhythm. [Light exposure] is interpreted by the brain to allow the chemical reactions to take place for healthy (or unhealthy) sleep cycles,” explained Nilong Vyas, M.D., board-certified pediatrician, sleep consultant at Sleepless in NOLA, and medical review expert at SleepFoundation.org (who is not affiliated with the study).
“If there’s a significant amount of light interference at a time when your body’s trying to sleep, it can cause poor sleep or unhealthily programmed sleep cycles, which can lead to a significant number of other medical issues.”
How did the researchers gather their findings? For the study, researchers took a group of young, healthy adults and compared data such as their sleep quality, heart rate, and glucose levels during one night of sleeping in a very dark room (three lux, dim light) and during one night of sleeping in moderately lit room (100 lux).
The results found that sleeping in a moderately lit room can increase your heart rate and activate your sympathetic nervous system while you sleep, and also impair your ability to regulate glucose the next morning.
“Attention to avoiding exposure to light at night during sleep may be beneficial for cardiometabolic health,” the study concludes.
Doctor Vyas added: “Gradually decreasing and ultimately eliminating light from your sleep environment will allow for improved sleep.”
How to darken your room
There are simple ways to black out your bedroom to ensure a sound and more healthy night’s sleep.
According to the Sleep Foundation, covering your windows should do the trick.
The sleep body explains: “Light from the sun and moon, as well as security lights or street lights, can enter the bedroom through windows.”
According to the organisation, if your blinds or curtains do not block outside light sufficiently, you might consider investing in blackout curtains.
“Covering the window with aluminum foil is a low-cost alternative that also blocks outdoor light.”
It also recommends:
- Wearing an eye mask
- Stowing away electronics.
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