“Luminous Tranquility” by Leanne Venier, oil on canvas, 72”x48”.
LOOK TOWARD THE LIGHT Secrets for a successful sleep cycle, improved health and greater productivity By: LEANNE VENIER
IT’S 7 A.M. The alarm clock starts blaring, and you groggily reach over to swat it into snooze-ville, wishing for nothing more than an extra hour of sleep. Lately, you just never feel rested in the morning, although you go to bed plenty early every night. Sound familiar? Do you toss and turn for several hours, finally nodding off, but never reach a deep sleep and wake up exhausted? Or maybe you eventually fall asleep only to reawaken later, unable to fall back asleep. In all of these cases, your health may be suffering more than you realize. Poor sleep can cause weight gain, dramatically shorten your life and kill your productivity at work. Luckily, there may be a simple solution to getting your sleep hygiene and health back on track, and it all has to do with properly timed blue light exposure. First, let’s examine why so many people are having a difficult time sleeping nowadays, and why we’ve become so dependent on caffeine and other stimulants to keep us awake and alert. 52
NSIDE TEXAS MD / APRIL 2015
In 1923, a Harvard grad student, experimenting with what he thought were blind mice, discovered that although they couldn’t see objects, they could still perceive light. And more interesting and relevant to today’s sleep deprivation epidemic, the sleep-wake cycles of these mice were directly controlled by the light. It turns out that all mammals have a special photoreceptor in their eyes which enables them to detect a certain type of light. This important research was largely ignored by the medical and scientific community for almost 80 years, but in 2001, this photoreceptor was rediscovered. A team at Thomas Jefferson University published the study, “Action Spectrum for Melatonin Regulation in Humans: Evidence for a Novel Circadian Photoreceptor,” and we now understand how those mice were able to sense light and why this discovery is important to good sleep hygiene and optimal health. Unlike the cones in our eyes, which sense objects and colors in well-lit conditions, and
rods, which are responsible for night vision, these photoreceptors are particularly sensitive to blue light, especially the narrow band that corresponds to midday sunlight from a clear blue sky, 446-477 nm. So why should you care about these tiny cells in your eyeballs? Well, by sensing blue daylight, they’re responsible for telling your body when it’s daytime. They control melatonin suppression during the day and melatonin production at night. Melatonin is that all-important hormone that helps us get sleepy, in addition to being an extremely potent antioxidant and cancer preventer. Unfortunately, with our predominantly indoor lifestyles nowadays, lack of sunlight and round-the-clock artificial light, most people are extremely deficient in melatonin, since our bodies think it’s daytime all the time. A 2014 study published at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul found that, “lack of exposure to natural light in the workspace is associated with physiological, sleep and