Humans beings react to differences in light in the environment, much in the same way that plants and animals do. Sunlight helps us know when to be awake, to be asleep and when to reproduce. It provides us with an important source of energy and, in concert with our skin, lets us make protective substances like the pigment melanin that protects us from burning and the hormone Vitamin D which is so vital to immune function. Overall, daylight keeps our internal clock (circadian rhythm) aligned with nature. Why is this important?
Nature has designed many of our functions to happen best during waking or sleeping hours. In particular, the repair and healing functions take place mostly when we are at rest, both in body and mind. The darkness is key to a whole cascade of processes that get our brains to produce the right kind of brain waves (delta) that are the foundation for a good healing environment. Getting exposure to lots of daylight during the day helps us sleep better at night, a good reason to encourage your kids to play outdoors!
When it comes to “sleep hygiene”, it is important that pay attention to the quality of light in the sleep environment. The very first thing we need to do is reduce our exposure to blue light, the kind generated by televisions and all electronic devices like computers, tablets and phones. The frequencies of blue light affect our ability to produce melatonin, the hormone that helps us fall asleep.
You should stop looking at sources of blue light about 3 hours before you want to sleep. For kids, this likely means no TV or electronics after supper. In the case of older children (or adults) who need to get work done in the evening involving computer time, orange tinted glasses can help avoid the disruption of the blue light frequencies.
Regular compact fluorescent lightbulbs also produce a lot of blue frequencies, so regular incandescent bulbs are better from that point of view. You can replace existing light bulbs in your bedroom lamps with much lower wattage ones, like 15W which cast a more relaxing glow. Night lights will work best in a red colour for calming the nerves, so look for ones that cast a reddish light. A wonderful kind of bedroom lamp is a himalayan salt lamp. These cast a pleasant pink glow, bright enough to read by but not more than that. Salt lamps also produce negative ions which neutralize the excessive positive ions generated by all the electricity in our homes. Those positive ions can actually disrupt our sleep because they interfere with blood and oxygen flow to the brain. Salt lamps are very inexpensive (under $20) so they are a great addition to any room of the house. (Check out www.therockspa.com for a great deal.)
Another type of light to consider for bedtime is candlelight. Lighting a special candle makes a lovely bedtime ritual for a child, and the flicker of a real flame is both captivating and calming. Use real beeswax candles for this purpose because regular paraffin candles produce soot and other chemicals similar to automobile exhaust. Beeswax candles actually clean the air as they burn, so they are worth the extra cost. Naturally, an adult should be present any time there is a live flame in the room, but this would be a lovely addition to a story time, prayer or any kind of mindfulness ritual you like to observe in your family.
Tracy Poizner 2016