Window on Circadian Rhythms in the Home

In the olden days, windows tended to be small because they were a liability. If they did not have glass, they would let in the rain. If they did have glass, they were expensive. In addition, some countries in Europe imposed an annual tax on glass windows, providing a further incentive to forego them. As a result, the homes of long ago were often rather dark during the day despite the glow of candles.

Although limitations in inside light could be a nuisance, at night, the darkness was perfect for sleeping. Our homes today, in contrast, make it hard to sleep well. In cities, light from other buildings, even office buildings in which no one is working, may stream in through the windows. The headlights of cars, and illumination from electronic billboards, add to the light pollution. And, of course, light from our lamps, clocks, radios, and laptops, contribute to making the night feel, to our bodies, more like the day.

This invasion of light into darkness at night, and the prevalence of walls that keep out daylight, can induce sleep-onset insomnia, and other problems in your circadian rhythms. To restore the sleep-wake cycle that fits you best, you can:
• reduce the amount of light exposure you get in the evening in a controllable way, for example, by getting the free circadian rhythm saver for your computer.
• use bedrooms and breakfast rooms which get light from the east, or southeast, rather than the west, or southwest, so you will get sunlight in the morning, when it can help regulate your circadian rhythms.
• maximize the amount of light you get during the day by installing shades, rather than blinds, and painting your walls white, so they reflect light, and contribute to the light you get.
And who knows? Perhaps we will return to shutters, which may have been invented to keep out the cold and damp, but might help us sleep better, as well.

Elizabeth Saenger, PhD