Bright Lights to Energize Your Day
Hundreds of years ago, without electric lights, we fell asleep soon after the sun went down and woke with the morning light. That's why people often assume that we’ve adjusted our sleep/wake schedule to the earth’s 24-hour days.
Clocks In Every Cell of Our Body?
But, in fact, within your brain and every other cell in your body is a nearly 24-hour body clock. And, it's those internal clocks that makes you feel sleepy at night and more alert during the day.
If you were put into a room without windows or a clock, your body would wake up and go to sleep at CLOSE to a 24-hour schedule, but probably not exactly. Our body clock can be a little less than that or a little more. On average, most of us run about 12 minutes longer than 24 hours.
This means, that even if we feel sleepy at 11PM on one day, the next day our body doesn’t want to go to sleep till 11:12. Yet, every minute of tossing and turning means that much less sleep…and more issues staying alert and focused the next day.
Resetting Our Body Clock: Light + Dark
To correct our body clock back to a more perfect 24-hour cycle, we need to use both light and dark strategically to get our body back in synch.
In a previous blog, we talked about the importance of making the evening light as dark as possible. This included suggestions about when to dim the lights in the evening, when to shut down electronics, and how to keep the bedroom as dark as possible. The benefits of introducing more dark in the evening include getting a better night's sleep - and waking more refreshed.
In addition, you'll need to use light to readjust our clock - which is the focus of this blog.
How to Use Bright Light
Here is the basic strategy. To adjust our body clock, we need to get outside light (or use a therapeutic bright light inside) at the appropriate time. Just turning on our kitchen lights or standard office lights isn’t going to adjust anything. And neither will sitting next to a window help. These simply aren't bright enough to reset your body clock.
Here's the therapeutic bright light therapy box that I use. It's portable, inexpensive, and provides the recommended10,000 lux treatment in just 30 minutes of exposure. Use it while reading or working on your computer.
Being exposed to bright lights during the morning hours will help us to shorten our body clock so we can get to sleep earlier. Bright lights during the afternoon hours is helpful for those people who have a hard time staying awake after dinner.
We can also use this strategy when we’re flying across time zones. If you’re traveling east to west, your day will get longer. So, it helps to have afternoon light to help you stay awake until your usual bedtime. If you’re traveling west to east, your day will be shorter. Getting morning light will help your body want to go to sleep earlier.
Getting bright light exposure at the appropriate time can also help if the job requires us to get up at a time that’s different than we normally prefer. Let's say the the boss wants you into the office early but you’re a night owl and want to sleep in. It will help to get morning light to readjust the body clock.
Try one of those alarms with a sunlight feature, then get outside for 30 minutes. Or use a therapeutic bright light at your desk while you’re working in the morning hours.
Need to stay awake and alert when you're working late or perhaps the night shift? Then bright lights are effective during the evening time and into the night shift.
Using bright lights strategically can help your internal body clocks synchronize with the external clocks of our world. When your body is in synch, you stay focused and alert during the day. And, get a good night’s sleep at night.
Seasonal Affective Disorder or Winter Blues?
Are the winter months particularly hard on you? As the number of hours of daylight decrease, do you find yourself feeling sad, moody, and just not yourself? Do the increased sunlight hours of the spring bring back the old you? You could be experiencing a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder - commonly referred to as SAD - and using bright lights as part of your therapy may help. Read this blog to learn more.
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