Thursday, April 3, 2014

Red Lights and Melatonin and Sleep and Stuff

I recently was reading a book about fibromyalgia and in it, the author was talking about sleep and melatonin and how light affects the production of melatonin.  You've probably heard of melatonin.  It's a hormone naturally produced by the body, though you can also buy it as a dietary supplement.  The supplement is supposed to help you sleep and to help with jet lag or to help people that work odd shifts by helping to re-adjust your body clock.

Well, apparently during the daytime, during daylight hours, your body produces almost no melatonin.  Once the sun starts going down and it begins to get dark out, your body starts making a lot more melatonin and this makes you get sleepy.  However, indoor lighting can affect the production of melatonin, so if you keep the lights bright inside even after dark, you won't get tired.  Or maybe you will get tired, but you'll have trouble sleeping. 

According to the book I was reading, even a small amount of light can interfere with the production of melatonin, so it's important to sleep in a dark room.  Even the light from a computer or television set can interfere with a good night's sleep, because it interferes with melatonin production.

Well, I have heard that you're not supposed to watch television or use your laptop in bed.   That's all part of what's called "sleep hygiene," along with stuff like going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, sleeping in a dark, cool, quiet, comfortable room, not doing anything other than sleeping or having sex in your bed (I'm not sure why they always make an exception for sex, maybe just because some people are so... conservative that the idea of having sex anywhere but the bed might shock them?), etc.  But I'd never heard that it had anything to do with melatonin production.

And I pretty much ignore the whole "sleep hygiene" thing because when I try getting up at the same time every day, even if I haven't slept at night, all that does is cause me to be exhausted.  It doesn't help me sleep the next night.  I know from experience.  I don't sleep in a dark room because I can't, because I'm scared to go to sleep in a dark room due to my PTSD.  For the same reason, I have trouble sleeping in a quiet room.  I like listening to music or a movie or something.  And while I think my bed is a fine place for having sex, I see no reason to confine those activities to the bed... oh, I guess I'm going a bit astray there.  Sorry.  Anyway, I very rarely even sleep in my bed.  I usually sleep on the couch.  I feel much safer there.

Anyway.  I'd never heard all that about melatonin production and light at night, so I did some research.  I found an article published by Harvard Medical School that said the amount of light produced by just two average nightlights was enough to significantly impact melatonin production and interfere with sleep.  According to the Harvard article, if you need to have a light on at night, it's best to use a red-tinted light bulb.  For some reason, that has the least impact on melatonin production.  Blue light, on the other hand, is the worst.

So I decided to experiment.  Back at Christmas time, I really enjoyed the lights on the Christmas tree.  They were bright enough that I was able to turn out all the other lights in the house, but I think they were dim enough that I was able to sleep better.  I had actually considered buying a string of lights of some kind and putting them up somewhere in my house after Christmas was over.

So I decided to do that now, but with a string of red lights.  Red, I have to say, is not my favorite color.  I'd rather have white lights.  Or yellow.  Or blue.  Or green.  But Harvard says it should be red.  So red is what I got.  They were only $7 from Amazon.  They arrived today.  I think they look a little more pinkish than red, which I'm not that fond of, either, but if they actually work, I think I'll decide I love them.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with them.  Right now, I have them draped over a bookcase.  If I decide they work and I like them, I'll do something a bit more decorative with them.  I thought maybe I'd buy a grapevine wreath and wrap the string of lights around it and hang it on the wall.  Something like that.  If I do, I'll post a picture.

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