Strong Sleep, Again
The Circadian Rhythm Is A Weapon Against Disease
Your health is greatly limited — or improved — by the quality of your circadian rhythm.
In fact, if you have room to improve your circadian rhythm — and most everyone does — there may be nothing holding you back more.
This means: Upgrading your circadian rhythm could be the most important area to focus on to improve your health.
1 — Melatonin, The Hormone Of Sleep
2 — The Melatonin Cycle
3 — Light Cycles Control Melatonin
4 — Darkness Raises Melatonin
5 — Modern Melatonin Cycles Are Broken
6 — The Brain’s “Clock”
7 — The SCN Knows Time Of Day
8 — Bright Light Lowers Melatonin
9 — Brightness & Color
10 — Good Light & Bad Light
11 — Two Big Variables
12 — Color Temperature
13 — Sunlight’s Changing Color Temperature
14 — Meal Timing Affects Circadian Rhythm
15 — Other Factors
“You get a show or a movie you’re really dying to watch and you end up staying up late at night, so we actually compete with sleep,” Hastings said, adding triumphantly, “And we’re winning!” (Nov 3, 2017)
China is the most sleep-medicated country in the world.
79% Of Americans Are Sleep Deprived
The average American only sleeps 6.8 hours per night.
Melatonin Is The Hormone Of Sleep
The human body can’t sleep without melatonin rising at night.
When Melatonin Rises, The Body Feels Sleepy
Melatonin is the primary component that tells the body it’s time for sleep. When melatonin rises, it may not be possible to stay awake.
This can observed when children fall asleep — anytime, anywhere. This is robust melatonin in action.
When people struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep, this powerful release of melatonin is not occurring optimally.
What Causes Melatonin To Rise?
Darkness is the main component that causes melatonin to rise.
Healthy Melatonin Cycles
High By Night, Low By Day
Melatonin must rise at night to facilitate sleep.
For this to happen, melatonin must be low throughout the day.
Melatonin — Rises After Dark
Melatonin rises at nighttime, just before bed — to make you fall asleep (and want to fall asleep).
Melatonin — Drops In The Morning
Melatonin falls just before you wake up. If melatonin stayed high, you’d keep sleeping. The bright light of the morning tells the brain to lower melatonin levels.
This cycle should align perfectly with natural sunlight cycles: when the sun is up –> melatonin is down.
What keeps melatonin low during the day?
Light Cycles Control Melatonin
Light Lowers Melatonin
When light enters the eyes and hits the photoreceptors on the skin, melatonin levels drop instantly.
When melatonin falls, humans feel alert and awake.
Darkness Raises Melatonin
Less Light Means More Melatonin
Every time the body perceives darkness, melatonin begins to rise.
Over time, the repeated daily and nightly cycles of light and dark “entrain” the brain to know the time of day — and, therefore, the level that melatonin should be produced.
The Cycle Is Broken
Melatonin Cycles Are Weakening
Modern lifestyles undermine the melatonin cycle at every turn, and from every angle.
Low Melatonin, Poor Sleep Quality
When evening melatonin production is harmed, sleep quality suffers.
Even if a person falls asleep quickly and sleeps through the night, that sleep is less restorative and healing.
In a 2010 study, normal room light in the evening harmed the melatonin response all night.
“Compared with dim light, exposure to room light before bedtime suppressed melatonin, resulting in a later melatonin onset in 99.0% of individuals and shortening melatonin duration by about 90 min.”https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21193540
The Brain’s “Clock”
the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN).
The “SCN” Controls Melatonin
The SCN is the brain’s clock.
It tells the brain what time of day it is. 24/7 — it works to keep the entire body functioning on schedule and on time.
When the time is right, the SCN tells the pineal gland when to start producing melatonin — and when to stop producing melatonin.
The SCN interpets the intensity and wavelengths of light that enter the eye and uses them to determine the time of day or night.
The SCN then tells the pineal gland how much melatonin to produce. The effect is rapid, with melatonin levels rising and falling quickly in response to light stimuli — or the lack thereof.
Bright Light Before Bed? Lower Melatonin.
STUDY: “Room Light” Before Bed Lowered Melatonin In 99% Of Individuals
Researchers studied 116 test subjects, exposing them to either “normal” room light or dim light in the hours prior to bedtime.
The results were clear: 99% of test subjects experienced a “profound suppressive effect on melatonin.”
This melatonin reduction delayed the body’s perceived window for sleep.
What’s more, when room light was present during sleeping hours, melatonin production was reduced by greater than 50% (in 85% of subjects).
Brightness & Color
Blue Is Bad At Night
Blue light lowers melatonin much more than red light — even 100 times more than red light.
By contrast, red light — even when extremely bright — will only lower melatonin a small amount. Weak, dim red light will have almost no impact on melatonin levels.
Even an incredibly tiny amount of blue light can significantly lower melatonin levels in the brain.
Bright light matters at night. Blue light is the most consequential.
Green Light Does Have A Moderate Effect On Melatonin
Green light lowers melatonin at about half the rate of blue light — which is way more than red light.
“Our results suggest that we have to consider not only blue light when predicting the effects of light on our circadian rhythms, hormones and alertness, but also other visible wavelengths such as green light.”Steven Lockley, PhD
Virtually zero effect
Good Light & Bad Light
light That improves Or Harms the melatonin cycle
Good light reinforces your melatonin cycle –making it stronger.
- Sunlight is the best form of “good” light. It is bright, its color temperature changes perfectly to guide the brain’s melatonin levels throughout the day.
2) Incandescent Bulbs
- Bright incandescent lamps are the best source of healthy light during the day. Halogens are just as good. These bulbs can provide moderate amounts of visible light in balanced ratios, helping the circadian rhythm. They are also safer than LEDs and fluorescents.
Bad light disrupts your melatonin cycle — making it weaker.
1) Dark Rooms During The Day
- A dark room — in daytime –mimics nighttime and tells your brain to immediately make more melatonin.
2) Bright Rooms At Night
- Being close to fluorescent and LED lighting after sundown, or looking at bright screens at night tells your brain to “wake up” — and reduce its production of melatonin.
*Technically, fluorescent and LED lighting is unhealthy during the day, as well, but for reasons other than the circadian rhythm.
Each Day Should Look Like This
Component #1 – Darkness At Night
Complete darkness at night teaches melatonin levels to rise properly.
To best retrain the circadian rhythm, it’s advisable to spend an hour in darkness prior to bedtime.
It’s also a great idea to reduce exposure to bright and blue light several hours prior to bedtime.
The further the effort toward evening darkness, the deeper the benefits, and the more likely the circadian rhythm will be properly restored and maintained.
Morning light has profound benefits for the circadian rhythm, and then receiving a bright-light stimulus throughout the day continuously informs the brain that it’s daytime.
In fact, sunlight’s color temperature constantly shifts throughout the day, getting white/bluer (with more UV) all morning. In the afternoon, the UV and blue continuously drop, leaving a warmer, redder light.
This perfectly informs the SCN about the time of day.
After years of undermining it, a strong circadian rhythm often takes weeks and months to develop. Once strong, it can become robust and bounce back more and more quickly.
The benefits of circadian rhythm work can begin to be noticed in as little as a few days to a few weeks.
Every light source has a “color temperature” — rated in Kelvins.
Various Light Sources — Kelvin Rating
Sunset / Sunrise
Screens are 6500-9500 Kelvin.
This means they are terrible for eye health as well as sleep.
(Low Kelvin number)
Red wavelengths are dominant. Light looks more red, orange, or yellow.
(High Kelvin number)
Blue wavelengths are dominant. Light looks more white, or even blue.
White light is extremely high in blue wavelengths.
Sunlight’s Changing Color Temperature
With exception of solar flares and subtle fluctuates that don’t affect humans day-to-day, the sun actually produces the same light non-stop.
However, the light that reaches the ground is very different as the day, season, latitude, and altitude change.
In the morning, nearly all blue light is filtered out by particles in the atmosphere, leaving the rich reds and oranges to reach the ground.
The Day Begins & Ends In Red Light
Sunrise and sunset both lack blue light.
The first and last few hours of each day have a unique, warm light signature. This warm light signals for your brain to transition to the next phase of your circadian rhythm.
Sunlight’s naturally changing color temperature (controlled by the angle of the sun) perfectly sets the brain up for powerful sleep cycles.
Morning sunlight has virtually zero blue wavelengths — hence it is warm and red.
By contrast, solar noon is rich in blue light — telling your brain: “It is mid-day!”
As the daytime blue light retreats, the brain knows nighttime is approaching. The brain begins to raise melatonin in preparation for deep, restorative sleep.
Movement & Meal Timing
Movement seems to clearly signal “daytime” to the brain.
Therefore, to further synchronize the circadian rhythm, daily movement is an important variable.
Gentle, “Zone 2” exercise is perfect for sleep: Not too intense, just enough to get the blood pumping, burn glutamate, and lower melatonin.
Exercise and movement suppress melatonin secretion. Therefore, it’s best to exercise during the day — while the sun is up — rather than later in the evening.
Morning is the optimal time to exercise, but midafternoon is fine as well.
For many, if late in the evening is the only viable option, it may be best to go ahead and exercise in the evening. In these (hopefully rare) situations, late evening exercise that is very intense may be best for melatonin levels.
When you eat really, really matters for quality sleep.
It’s not necessary to be perfect with meal timing, but the earlier you eat your meals, the better for sleep and the circadian rhythm.
Getting these steps wrong can seriously impact the quality of your sleep — and your health.
Light tells the brain it’s daytime — and so do eating and movement. Darkness tells the body it’s nighttime.
It’s importnat to get the right amount of exericse — and then eat enough calories to support that movement. Whenever possible, great care should be taken to ensure meals are eaten a little early rather than a little late.
Eating Early Helps The Circadian Rhythm
Eat a real breakfast within a half hour of waking.
“We’ve inhabited this planet for thousands of years, and while many things have changed, there has always been one constant: Every single day the sun rises and at night it falls,” Dr. Panda said. “We’re designed to have 24-hour rhythms in our physiology and metabolism. These rhythms exist because, just like our brains need to go to sleep each night to repair, reset and rejuvenate, every organ needs to have down time to repair and reset as well.”https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/24/well/when-we-eat-or-dont-eat-may-be-critical-for-health.html
At night, the lack of sunlight prompts the brain to release melatonin, which prepares us for sleep. Eating late in the evening sends a conflicting signal to the clocks in the rest of the body that it’s still daytime, said Dr. Peterson.https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/24/well/when-we-eat-or-dont-eat-may-be-critical-for-health.html
Be finished eating for the day — fully supplied with sufficient calories to last the night — by a reasonable time in the evening.
There are certainly other factors that are important for the circadian rhythm. Those other factors will be discussed in the following sections.
However, if one gets light wrong, every other variable is much less likely to help.
The Perfect Sleep Rhythm
There’s An Optimal Sleep/Wake Rhythm
It doesn’t take long — once after A) trying things for oneself, B) digging into the evidence, and C) working with people — to realize that there’s an optimal time to sleep and rise.
Perhaps for some, an 11:30 PM bedtime would be a major improvement. If that’s the next step to make, it will be a beneficial one. Moving a bedtime from 2:00 AM to 11:30 PM is an incredibly powerful shift.
A similar improvement is possible when moving the bedtime from 11:30 PM to 9:30 PM.
Imagine how great life can be, consistenly fast asleep before 10:00 PM most nights.
Don’t Think You Can Get There?
Perhaps you’re worried about mid-night wakings, or that you’ll lie in bed for hours. I know, I’ve been there, too. My sleep was spectacularly atrocious for the first 15 years of my adult life. Then, I figured it out, and these are steps that made the difference.
I never “take” anything to sleep now. I have confidence — every single night — that I can and will fall asleep, and wake up refreshed.
I changed my life, and it all started with my circadian rhythm.
You can, too.