Do you have trouble sleeping in the evening?
Let’s take a moment to look at the human body. It’s a machine that has evolved for hundreds of thousands of years. And no matter if you believe in some god, supreme power, or Darwin’s teachings, man is not just created like this in space; nor it is just created in the middle of New York City or any other city of your choice.
We were created in a certain environment, and every single detail in us is perfectly designed for that environment; for us to survive and reproduce. And here is the proof – we survived and multiplied.
The way our body works and is built is closely linked to the environment in which it evolved and to its conditions. This environment is called “nature”. Apparently, according to research, the first humans walked in tropical climates. In places where temperatures are comfortable for us, with no air conditioning or thermal equipment, where food is abundant and available.
What else was in this area? We were exposed to the open air 24/7.
It may sound like a minor detail. However, nowadays we talk endlessly about nutrition, physical activity, minerals, and vitamins. And those are indeed important and unequivocally affecting our health and mental state.
But there is another important element almost like them. This element is called: Biological clock (or: circadian clock).
Our bodies have since evolved into a world that has day and night cycles (and seasons). There is no animal on the planet that does not live according to this periodicity – each animal has the hours when it is awake, active, playing, looking for food and engaging in survival, as well as the hours it sleeps. There are differences between animals on this subject, for example – animals that are active at night and doze during the day, and vice versa. However, for everyone, the principle of the biological clock periodicity works. It has evolved, based on the cyclicality of light and darkness in nature.
So, what is this biological clock, and where does it sit in our bodies?
The truth is that it is found in many places, and also in every cell. Nevertheless, there are some major glands in our bodies that are responsible for this watch. For example the Pineal gland, which is in our brain. Furthermore, in what way is the Pineal gland involved in our biological hours?
The answer is:
Hormones are substances that are mainly produced in various glands in our bodies, such as the thyroid, the hypothalamus, the Pineal, the pancreas, ovaries/testicles, the thymus, the adrenal gland, and some others. The name of this whole structure is the endocrine system.
The job of this system is to carry out communications. These glands produce hormones that are secreted into the blood and reach cells in our body that receive different instructions, such as to do certain things and produce some substances.
In practice, these things are expressed in various physiological processes such as heart rate, metabolism, digestion, energy-burning, waking and sleeping, concentration, mood, growth and development, ovulation or sperm production, feelings of hunger and satiety. Hence, the truth about every process you can think of which is happening in our bodies is affected by hormones.
When we have hormonal imbalances we can see symptoms such as illness, obesity, infertility, growth retardation or accelerated development in children, ADHD, sleep problems, pressure, and tension, etc.
The main hormone that we are going to talk about today, is – how not – the sleep hormone.
Melatonin is a hormone that exists in humans, animals, and even plants and bacteria!
Melatonin is created in the Pineal gland. It is responsible to prepare the body for sleep and to lower body temperature. It reaches the cells and signals that it is now dark, by activating biological processes in the body associated with sleep. Nowadays, Melatonin is also given as a cure for people with sleeping difficulty.
Melatonin levels in our blood fluctuate periodically during the day. Melatonin, as said, is produced in the Pineal gland, and its production depends on the light. We thus have receptors in the body that knows when we are exposed to light, and also what wavelengths of light. These receptors are mainly in the eye retina. Hence, when light is absorbed in the retina, messages are transmitted to central brain areas that this is now daylight, and melatonin production is inhibited. The light that most affects melatonin restraint is blue light and UV light. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense that when these two types of highest level light reach us in the middle of the day, we obviously are not supposed to sleep.
At sunset, the reflected light is in more reddish and orange tones, and it has no arousing effect like the blue light.
When measuring the types of light waves emitted from smartphones, TVs, and computers over the years, you can see a sharp increase in the level of blue light. This is probably the desire to create a highly realistic and tangible viewing experience. Anyone who remembers the screens of 10 and 20 years ago should understand exactly the difference in the viewing experience. Nowadays, the blue light is the dominant one emitted from these screens, and at much higher levels than the level of blue light reflected from the natural light of the sun.
If you read up to this point, you already understood what the problem is:
During the day: most of us are either at home or living and working inside buildings. We move from building to building usually in vehicles, barely exposed to the sun and natural light. The absurdity is that this lifestyle means that even people who live in very warm and bright countries are not exposed to enough natural light that affects and activates biological mechanisms in our body, but only mainly artificial light from lamps and screens.
In the evening we sit at home, in front of the computer, the TV, and the smartphone. We thus want to relax from our passing day. However, while watching the screens, we blow our eyes and receptors we have in the retina with the blue light that signals to our Pineal gland that this is now mid-day.
So, during the day we do not get enough natural light, and in the evening we receive far too much artificial light. Hence, we are not alert enough in the day and not sufficiently tired to fall asleep early at night.
Research shows that the lack of exposure to natural light can also lead to far-fetching changes in our mental state: this is the reason that in winter more people turn to depression than in summer, and in sunless countries, depression is more common than in sunny states.
All of this is at the forefront. However, there are many other elements that affect sleep. But, just out of the above facts, is any of you surprised that sleep disorders are so common in Western society?
The good news is that no matter where you live, even if you’re from a cold country, with a few simple actions you can sync your biological clock, feel more energetic during the day and fall asleep quite easily at night.
So, how it’s done:
The first and perhaps the most important: connection to the natural periodicity. Exposure to the sun and natural light as early as possible in the morning. It’s also better to expose as many body parts as you can – Studies show that this simple action, even fifteen minutes of sun exposure (which is also the safest for our skin), helps balance sleep disorders. The sun is rich in red light which activates physiological processes in the body that raise our energy levels and alertness, helping us to feel tired in the evening.
Before we even talk about screens, let’s talk about the lighting you have at home, especially in the evening. So, look for low-light yellow light bulbs, and preferably even old incandescent bulbs, and not white and blue light bulbs (and for my own personal opinion, blue and white light is a type of lighting that suits a clinic and doesn’t give a warm atmosphere I want to have at home).
In general, try to dim the lighting at home starting at night. If you have completed your chores, you may not need full lighting. You can switch to more delicate and maybe even more romantic lighting …\
In general, it’s preferable to fall asleep with a book or magazines and not with screens. But if you must:
Nowadays, they sell red glasses that block blue light, which you can put in the evening in front of the TV. There are many who do it! It’s recommended to try it out.
In most smartphones today you have the option of filtering blue light. There are special apps for that, look it out. The same is with computers. A simple Google search will give you results of software that installs and eliminates the blue light permanently or just for the evening and night. As for the TV, you can go into settings and play with the shades. At first, you will find it strange, but you will get used to the new look very quickly.
If you suffer from sleep disorders, remember that the biological clock is one of the most significant elements here. Moreover, there are other things that affect it such as exercising, eating at wrong hours such as late at night, caffeine consumption, etc.
This article is a product of a long and sustained learning process over many years in the field of biology, human physiology, nutrition, environment, and natural health. However, although I would like to annex a full source list to the above article, I do not have the ability.