How light exposure affects health – an interview of Dan by Dr. Joseph Mercola
Today, my video interview with Dr. Mercola was published. We talked about how to get great sleep and the influence of light on health, sleep, and daytime alertness.
Here are some of the summary notes posted on his website.
- If you don’t sleep well, you’re not going to be optimally healthy no matter how good your diet and exercise are.
- Maintaining a natural rhythm of exposure to daylight, and darkness at night, is an essential component of sleeping well.
- Light is important because it serves as the major synchronizer of something called your master clock. Other biological clocks throughout your body in turn synchronize to your master clock
- To maintain and “anchor” your master clock, you want to get bright outdoor light exposure for 30-60 minutes a day
- In the evening, avoid the blue light wavelength. This can be done by using blue-blocking light bulbs, dimming your lights, and if using a computer, installing a blue light-blocking software (F.Lux)
Getting the right light exposure across the day, evening, and night is crucial to helping you get regular, deep sleep and to support robust wakefulness during the day. It takes time to experience the maximal benefit of proper light exposure. You need to have the right light at the right time for multiple days in a row to experience the full effect on improved daytime alertness. However, as discussed in the beginning of the interview, duration and timing of sleep also impact the equation. In our modern world – due to a large amount of forces of modern life – it’s easy to get less sleep than you need and to have too much variability in timing of your sleep.
At the end of the interview, we discussed self tracking for sleep practice mindfulness. To solve the problem of variable sleep timing and insufficient sleep duration, Dan’s Plan created a free sleep tracking tool (video description) that uses effective behavioral techniques to keep you mindful of how you’re living day by day. It’s not hard to imaging how making this tool a part of a person’s daily routine could lead to the addition of 30 extra minutes of sleep per night. If you’re like most people, and you’re getting insufficient sleep on a regular basis, these 30 minutes per night are a huge benefit. Practiced over time, the difference is equivalent to you missing 22 complete nights of sleep over 1 year!
Some new quantified self devices provide feedback on sleep stages. However, it’s normal for sleep to adjust night after night so this sort of detailed sleep analysis – unless your diagnosing a sleep issue – isn’t really necessary. At worst, it’s misleading. A better use of these new technologies should aim to help you maintain the behaviors that help you get good sleep, like getting into bed at the right time. If I were to tell you that your sleep efficiency score from last night was 85%, what does that mean to you? Is that good, bad, or normal? On the other hand, if the tool were to remind you that your target bedtime is, let’s say, 10:45p, but you’re going to bed on average at 11:30p recently, now you have increased mindfulness and a clear goal for what you can do tonight to get the sleep you need. That’s very useful, especially since there are many temptations that make missing sleep easy. This sort of tool helps you fight back, making the right sleep behavior more visible and salient in your day-to-day lifestyle. Tracking, therefore, is useful for both the novice and expert alike, because regardless of you level of knowledge of the sleep science, mindfulness of your own daily sleep practice helps you maintain a healthy pattern long term, and that’s what counts in the end.
It’s challenging to get the sleep you need in the modern world. To get the sleep that helps keep you healthy and performing at your best, it’s useful to learn the fundamental components of good sleep (discussed in the video above), maintain smart light rhythms day by day, and engage with the right tools to keep you mindful of your daily sleep practice. Sleep is hugely important in our health and these are some of the cutting-edge but practical techniques to help you get the best sleep possible. If you’re not tracking sleep now, you should start today. Over the course of time, doing so will mean you’ll be more likely to get better sleep which will have enumerable benefits on your health and daily experience.