Having trouble sleeping through the night? Blame it on light pollution. The human body operates best when it’s in sync with natural cycles, but excess lighting from large urban areas has thrown off our biological clock and its connection with the rising and falling of the sun. Light pollution, which occurs when artificial lighting interferes with the natural rhythms of light and dark, can lead to a variety of health problems, including sleep deprivation, depression, weight gain and increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Light pollution obscures the night sky and keeps us from getting a good night’s rest. Photo By Cestomano/Courtesy Flickr.
The darker the room, the better you’ll sleep, experts say. Our bodies interpret light as a signal to wake up, so when we sleep in a room that is polluted with artificial light—either from internal sources such as electronics or external sources such as street lights—our sleep becomes fragmented, which is why we often wake up drowsy the next morning.
Exposure to light at night also interferes with our bodies’ natural production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates our sleep cycle, sexual development and may even help prevent cancer. Studies have shown that women with breast cancer tend to have lower levels of melatonin, and that introducing additional melatonin to the body can shrink tumors in women with breast cancer.
Want to get the best night's sleep possible? Eliminate all sources of light within your bedroom. Photo By bolandrotor/Courtesy Flickr.
To get the best night’s sleep—and avoid health problems down the road—reduce light pollution in your sleeping environment.
• Install motion sensors on outdoor lights, so they’ll turn on only when you need them.
• Put blackout curtains on all your bedrooms windows. Many blackout curtains also block heat as well as light, making them an energy-efficient decoration.
• Turn off the lights in your bedroom and look for sources of light. Does your computer, alarm clock or other electrical device give off excess light? Is light filtering in from the hallway? If you can’t unplug your electrical devices, cover the light source up.
• If possible, get your sleep cycle on a regular pattern. Take notice of what time the sun sets and rises in your city and adjust your schedule to these times. Even if you can’t arrange your schedule around these natural rhythms, getting your sleep cycle on a regular pattern will help you sleep better—and get the most from your shuteye.
• An hour before bedtime, turn off bright lights, shut down your computer and get ready for bed using the least amount of light possible.