Elizabeth Saenger, PhD
If you have trouble getting a good night’s sleep, you are not alone. A careful 2016 study of Americans found 19% did not get a good night’s sleep. In addition, 37% did not get a full night’s sleep, and 9% had insomnia.
Problems with the amount, and quality, of sleep can result in drowsy driving, and other dangers.
Unfortunately, pills have not been successful for most users. They usually reduce the time it takes to get to sleep by only a few minutes, and they typically lengthen a night’s sleep only slightly.
Further, many studies show that sleeping pills have significant side effects. For example, they can wear off too slowly, thus keeping people from feeling refreshed, and doing their best, the next day.
Better Solutions for All Ages
What can you do if you have trouble getting to sleep? Most of us avoid coffee, or running a marathon, before going to bed. But there are less well-known tips inspired by studies on circadian rhythms, or our inner clocks.
Research finds that human eyes are particularly sensitive to blue light―a part of the spectrum of color within white light. When blue light strikes cells in the bottom of the retina, it keeps us from making melatonin, the sleep hormone. That means we are likely to stay awake, even if we want to go to sleep.
A Free App: F.lux
As justgetflux.com explains, when the sun sets, its free app, “makes your computer look like your indoor lights. In the morning, it makes things look like sunlight again. Tell f.lux what kind of lighting you have, and where you live… f.lux will do the rest, automatically.”
In short, f.lux reduces the amount of energizing blue light coming from the screen at night. Thus, you do not need to forego online activity right before bedtime.
Avoid Blue Light Before Bedtime
If you reduce your exposure to the blue part of white light for two to three hours before you go to bed, you will have a better chance of going to sleep. That’s because the cells in your retina will not tell the master clock in your brain that it is daytime, and you should stay awake. Instead, the cells will tell your master clock that it is time to tell the pineal gland to produce melatonin.
Some people wear blue blockers―amber glasses―that filter out blue light. These glasses can be fitover models that go over regular prescription eyeglasses. They are effective if worn for two to three hours before bedtime.
CET offers premium blue blockers at its online store. They block the frequencies of blue and blue-green light that suppress the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin. You can also get basic blue blockers at Amazon.com for under $10. These glasses block much, though not all, of this light. This reduces, but does not eliminate, melatonin in the blood circulation.
Be sure that whatever you wear blocks light from coming into your eyes from the side of the glasses.
For more on when you need protective eyewear, and how children. teens, and adults have different needs when it comes to protecting their eyes, see Light and Sleep Across the Lifespan.
Make it Easier for Yourself to Get Back to Sleep
If you get up during the night, avoid exposure to the blue component of white light. If you need a nightlight, use one that cuts out the blue rays since ordinary nightlights contain blue light within the white light. That can make it hard for people to get back to sleep.
Tailor Lighting to You
To make up for low light exposure during the day, increase the amount of indoor light in your living or working space. To make sure this is not done at the risk of exposure to too much blue light in the evening, the compact fluorescent bulbs should have a low color temperatures of 2700 or 3000 Kelvin, for example, the Luxrite LR20210 42-Watt CFL T3 Spiral Light Bulb. And even though such bulbs produce soft light, make sure you use them with a lamp shade to diffuse the light: you should never stare directly at a naked light bulb.
If you are falling asleep earlier than you’d like without a reason, such as work, make sure to keep brighter lights on longer while you want to stay up (but not for the two or three hours before you want to sleep).
For more information, check our Ask our Experts questions at cet.org. Answers cover sixteen topics which can help you improve your mood, sleep, and energy, such as: Light Therapy, Light Boxes, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Sleep, Sleep Phase Delay, Depression and many others.