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Darkness and its power to help us sleep

Darkness is very powerful over our bodies, especially when it comes to sleep!

Think about those days that you wake up and it’s gray and dark out with rain clouds. Do you feel like jumping out of bed and tackling your day? Or do you feel like curling up under the covers and sleeping all day? 

Now think about a bright, sunny day. It’s amazing how much the sunshine and bright lights can affect our body’s internal systems! On a bright sunny day, you’ll tend to feel much more energetic and productive. 

The darkness on the other hand, makes us feel sleepy. And this is not just antidotal, there is a science behind it.  

Rainy, dark days make us feel sleepy GSS Blog

I’m not sure if everyone knows this or not, but melatonin is not just an over the counter pill to help with sleep.

Melatonin is more than pills GSS Blog

Our body naturally produces the hormone melatonin to help our body transition to sleep. And the darkness helps signal to our bodies that we need to start producing this hormone. 

Typically, our bodies will do so at the same time each day, if we follow a regular daily schedule. So if we wake up at the same time each day and expose ourselves to either natural daylight or artificial bright light, then our internal clocks will wake up as well. Once our internal clock kicks into gear, it will cue our body in on when we should be doing certain things, like eating and sleeping. 

However, we can actually sabotage our body’s internal systems from doing their jobs properly, and therefore, struggle to be able to transition to sleep. 

For example, when we stare at screens late into the evening, our brains are tricked into thinking it’s time to be awake due to the blue light exposure. So if you’ve been working on a computer or scrolling on your phone for hours and then decide, all of sudden, that it’s bedtime, your body is no longer prepared for that. 

Think back to the days of the caveman and how the darkness effected their way of life.

His only way of living was on the sun’s schedule. So when the sun was up, the caveman was up and could do things to survive. Once the sun went down, it was safer for the caveman to stay near his shelter, and go to sleep. Once he figured out how fire worked, that would have helped him see a little bit longer than the sun did, but still, it’s a much dimmer light compared to what we have now. 

Staring at screens counteracts the power of darkness GSS Blog

While I’m very appreciative of all the inventions and how far we’ve come from the caveman era, I can admit, we do tend to get in our own way sometimes. Recently the use of over the counter melatonin supplements have skyrocketed. Well so has our use of handheld, electronic devices, right? 

Forget the caveman, if we just go back about 20 years, to a time when we didn’t all have miniature computers in our hands, our bodies had an easier job of knowing when it was time to sleep and when it was time to be awake. Our smartphones, tablets, and laptops expose us to excessive blue light, late into the evenings, and throw off our melatonin production.  

And there are other ways we sabotage our sleep as well.

Some people might also sabotage themselves by just being in very bright light late into the evening. For all my gym people out there, have you ever worked out at night in a super bright gym and then gone home, wide awake for another 3 hours when, really, you should be in bed? Yes other things come into play here as well, like heart rate and endorphins, but the feeling of working out in a brightly lit gym compared to a space with dim lighting, like outside in the neighborhood or in a yoga studio, is much different!

Running in the dark is helpful for sleep GSS Blog
Bright Gym Workout GSS Blog

You could also feel these effects, on the flip side, if you’re waking up early to work out. Most people’s jaws drop if they hear I wake up at 4:30 to work out. But if you’re waking up at 4:30 and going into a bright, energetic gym, it’s a lot easier for your body to wake up. When you’re shuffling around your house before the sun is up, trying to get coffee in you, and get ready for your day, it takes your body longer to wake up. 

The darkness has the power to help you sleep. While the sunshine, or bright lights, have the power to help your body stay awake. So start using them to your benefit! 

For my pediatric clients I always recommend their bedroom be three things- cool, dark, and quiet. Just like how bears use cool, dark caves to help them hibernate through the winter, this environment is the most conducive for sleep for your little ones, as well as yourselves! 

Bedtime Routine and the power of darkness GSS Blog

To all of my parents out there rocking their little ones to sleep each night, when you leave their nursery, how tired do you feel? 

Raise your hand if you have a list of 20 things to get done after your little ones bedtime routine, but then, after the 30 minutes you spend in their dark, peaceful bedroom, you abandon the list because you are just too tired. 

The darkness did its job on your body!  

If your little one is struggling to fall asleep each night, ask yourself these questions:

Is their room dark enough? 

Do you have a blue or white nightlight set up for them that’s actually undermining their ability to fall asleep? 

Bedrooms should use the power of darkness to help sleep GSS Blog
Screen time should end at least an hour before bedtime GSS Blog

Does your wind down routine include dim lighting to help your little one’s melatonin production prior to starting their bedtime routine? 

And the biggie: 

Do you cut off your little one’s screen time early enough to prevent the blue light exposure from tricking their brains? 

What about you? Are you sabotaging your sleep by working on your devices late into the evening? Or is your big screen TV always on in your bedroom, letting off a lot of blue light? Do you have the option of dimming your house lights so that you can make your transition to sleep easier? Or are you a late night TikTok-er, scrolling for hours instead of sleeping?

The darkness is a powerful thing, use it! 

Devices sabotage the power of darkness for sleep GSS

If you’re looking for help getting your little one to sleep better, I can help! Reach out today and we can chat.

For any adults struggling with their sleep, stay tuned! I’m currently enrolled in a certification program, and in a couple of months, will be able to offer adult sleep coaching as well! 💜🧸

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