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How the Cycles of Light and Darkness Affect Your Health and Wellbeing

So first and foremost, you want to maintain natural and proper light rhythms. This includes exposing yourself to intense light (aka daylight), ideally around solar noon but anytime during sun rise and sun down is useful, for at least half an hour or more each day. A gadget that can be helpful in instances when you, for some reason, cannot get outside during the day is a blue-light emitter. Philips makes one called goLITE BLU. (You can find it on Amazon[i] for less than $150.) It’s a small light therapy device you can keep on your desk. It’s especially useful during winter when it’s harder to get out door  and there is a shorted photo period during the day (i.e., less daylight hours and less light intensity during daytime). Use it twice a day for about 15 minutes to help you anchor your circadian rhythm if going outdoors is challenging.

Then, in the evening, you want to dim environmental lights and avoid the blue light wavelength. Use blue-blocking light bulbs, dimming your lights with dimmer switches and turn off unneeded lights, and if using a computer, installing blue light-blocking software like f.lux[ii]. Last but not least, when it’s time to go to sleep, make sure your bedroom is very dark. 

Tracking Sleep to Maintain Mindfulness of Your Sleep Practice

As discussed, getting the right light exposure across the day, evening, and night is crucial to helping you get regular deep sleep and to support robust wakefulness during the day. It takes time to experience the maximal benefit of proper light exposure. You need to have the right light at the right time for multiple days in a row to experience the full effect. However, as we introduced in the beginning, duration and timing of sleep also impact sleep quality and daytime performance. In our modern world – due to a large amount of forces of the modern life –

Pardi says, it’s easy to both get less sleep than you need and to have too much variability in when you sleep.  To solve this problem, he created a free sleep tracking tool (video description) on his website (dansplan.com) that uses effective behavioral techniques to keep you mindful of how you’re living day by day. Making this sort of tool a part of your daily routine can lead to the addition of 30 extra minutes of sleep per night. If you’re like most people, and you’re getting insufficient sleep on a regular basis, these 30 minutes per night are a huge benefit. Practiced over time, the difference is equivalent to you missing 22 complete nights of sleep over 1 year! 

There are several new devices that provide feedback on sleep quality. However, it’s normal for sleep to adjust itself every night so this sort of feedback – unless your diagnosing a sleep issue – isn’t really necessary. At worst, it’s misleading. A better use of these new technologies should aim to help you maintain the behaviors that help you get good sleep, like getting into bed at the right time. If I were to tell you that your sleep efficiency score from last night was 85%, what does that mean to you? Is that good, bad, or normal?

On the other hand, if the tool were to remind you that your target bedtime is, let’s say, 10:45p, but you’re going to bed on average at 11:30p recently, now you have increased mindfulness and a clear goal for what you can do tonight to get the sleep you need. That’s very useful, especially since there are many temptations that make missing sleep easy. This sort of tool helps you fight back, making the right sleep behavior more visible and salient in your day-to-day lifestyle. Tracking, therefore, is useful for both the novice and expert alike, because regardless of you level of knowledge of the sleep science, mindfulness of your own daily sleep practice helps you maintain a healthy pattern long term, and that’s what counts in the end.”

Bottom line:

It’s challenging to get the sleep you need in the modern world. To get the sleep that helps keep you healthy and performing at your best, Pardi recommends that it’s useful to learn the fundamental components of good sleep (discussed here), maintain smart light rhythms day by day, and engage with the right tools to keep you mindful of your daily sleep practice. Sleep is hugely important in our health and these are some of the cutting-edge but practical techniques to help you get the best sleep possible. For even more guidelines to help you get a good night’s sleep, please see this previous article.

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