For the most part, our eyes don’t absorb enough natural light to produce the much needed sleep hormone ‘melatonin’ which (obviously) enables sleep. The main Melatonin production site in the body is through the retina. Thus it is important for the eyes to ‘receive’ as much natural light in as safe a manner as possible.
Natural light produces much more melatonin in our bodies so that we are able to sleep more soundly. Have you ever wondered why, after a day out picnicking in the countryside, you sleep really well?
The simple and basic truth is that when we spend most of our time indoors under artificial light there is not such a great differentiation between light and dark - i.e. our bodies have not produced enough melatonin to differentiate between ‘awake’ time and ‘asleep’ time.
How are our bodies to know that when the room is just a little bit darker than the daytime, it is time to go to sleep?
The amount of light perceived by the human eye is measured in units called ‘lux’. Simply put, the more ‘lux’ the human eye absorbs, the more melatonin is created and thus the difference between daylight and dark becomes greater and the body is then more able to read the signals for sleep.
One way to discover whether your sleep is being affected due to a lack of ‘lux’ is simply to ensure that more natural light can be perceived by your eyes. This does NOT mean looking directly into sunlight! It means being in natural daylight without blocking that light from your eyes - DAYLIGHT DOES NOT MEAN SUN!
When it is safe and comfortable to do so, try going without your sunglasses now and then, thus allowing your eyes to absorb more light (obviously this does not mean looking directly into the sun!)
First thing in the morning (or when the sun has risen) try and go out into natural light for 10 minutes. The stark contrast between the darkened bedroom/house and natural daylight will boost the melatonin producing process.
Find a few minutes, several times during the day to allow yourself to be in natural light without blocking access to your eyes (via sunglasses or broad hat brims).
If you find it impossible to ‘get’ enough natural daylight then try using a Light Box - these simulate natural light and produce more lux units than normal artificial light.
Natural light is also a mood enhancer - good sleep and a good mood do tend to go hand in hand!!!
Warm water and Heat vs. Cold Did you know that a warm, not HOT, shower or bath NO LESS than 3 hours before bedtime is a great sleep enhancer?
The body will not sleep if it is too warm. Anyone who overheats in the night (for whatever reason - nightmares, hormonal changes, too heavy bedclothes etc.) will attest to this fact!
By raising the body’s temperature, slightly, 3 hours before bedtime, you create a situation where, once out of the water, the body’s temperature starts to drop. Simply put, your body registers a drop in temperature (compared to that of the warm water) and that difference is stark enough to make a difference between ‘normal awake’ temperature and the needed (slightly) cooler difference in temperature required for a good night’s sleep. Do not be afraid of letting the body get a little cool at night. Think of hibernating animals - they go to sleep in cold weather. People fall asleep in severe cold - think of all the stories of mountaineers wanting to fall asleep in the snow. COLD SLOWS DOWN THE MIND AND BODY so let’s use some of this natural knowledge to help ourselves… PLEASE NOTE, NONE OF THESE RAISES OR DROPS IN TEMPERATURE SHOULD BE DRAMATIC. THE BODY REGISTERS ANY SLIGHT CHANGE AND WILL RESPOND IF YOU LET IT! TIPS:
Consider wearing slightly less warm night attire than you are used to - the difference may surprise you!
If you are used to sleeping naked then consider the weight of your blankets/duvets etc. and try something lighter.
It may sound REALLY strange but…. For someone with sleep problems, there is nothing more comforting than feeling a little cool in the night and having an extra (light) layer to pull up over you.
Get used to having a light, fleecy blanket at the ready so you can flick it over you without too much disturbance - just the comforting feeling of ‘getting warm’ will enhance a sense of hibernation.
Adrenalin creates heat in the body so avoid anything that will overexcite your system - this may sometimes be difficult.
If you are in an adrenalin producing situation then acknowledge it - be gentle with your body. A warm (not hot) mug of milk with honey can be very soothing.
VERY Light Exercise!!
Groan, groan - I KNEW exercise would come into it somewhere!!!!!
Well here’s a surprise - can you walk gently for 10-15 minutes?
A really good time to have a gentle walk for 10 minutes is after work. In the Summer this walk can be combined with getting in some last minute lux (if you can avoid the sunglasses).
A gentle walk around the block, after work, followed by a warm shower will certainly bring you nearer to a healthy sleep.
Some people are lucky and have a natural in-built walk home from the train/bus station. If you are one of these lucky people and you DO have sleeping problems, change the measure of the walk. DO NOT race home - walk gently and meditatively picturing the day’s doings falling away behind you.
Exercise too close to bedtime will only raise adrenalin and endorphin levels thus putting your body into an active and overheated state. Again, light exercise no less than 3 hours before bed will provide another contrast, namely between activity and rest.