Hundreds of years ago we slept when the sun went down and woke during bright light. That’s why people often assume that we’ve adjusted our sleep/wake schedule to the earth’s 24-hour days. But, in fact, within your brain and every other cell in your body is a nearly 24-hour body clock. That internal clock 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.
To correct our body clock back to a more perfect 24-hour cycle, we can use both light and dark strategically to get our body back in synch. In a previous blog and video, we talked about dark – dimming the lights in the evening, shutting down electronics early, and then keeping the bedroom as dark as possible.
So in this blog, let’s talk about using light to readjust our clock.
How to Use Bright Light
Here is the basic strategy. To adjust our body clock, we need to get outside light (or using therapeutic bright lights inside) at the appropriate time. Just turning on our kitchen lights or standard office lights isn’t going to adjust anything.
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 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 you stay focused and alert during the day. And, get a good night’s sleep at night.