By Dr. David Juan
I have a good friend who’s always tired. It impacts her mood, diet, and ultimately how she performs every day. When she’s not at work, she’s sleeping, and when she’s not sleeping, she’s usually lounging around, unable to expend much energy. Does this sound familiar?
It might. Most Americans have a hard time sleeping through the night. There are a number of factors at play, ultimately stopping the average American from getting a good night’s sleep. Things like stress, distractions, LCD screens, televisions in the bedroom, and too much caffeine all play a role.
A study from Oxford University is showing how the amount of light in your bedroom can also be playing a role in your health. A study of 113,000 women indicated that the brighter a bedroom was at night, the greater likelihood that the person sleeping in it was obese. The conclusion: a bright bedroom can sabotage your health by making you fat.
There are number of health problems that can arise from both obesity and insufficient sleep, so this might be a major health concern. However, it is my belief that the brightness in your bedroom isn’t going to contribute to obesity to the same degree as diet and a lack of exercise, and I doubt the doctors behind the study would, either.
But the two could have an association. When you’re tired and struggling through the day, your body craves calories to keep it moving, and this might cause overeating or reaching for foods that are unhealthy. And when your room is too bright, it can have an impact on your sleep.
As more and more Americans report sleeping problems, I can’t help but think it’s somewhat associated with the increase in high-density, urban housing, as well as expanded suburbs. If you live in a downtown apartment or condominium, you’re getting all kinds of light pollution from neighboring buildings, streetlights, and advertisements. The cheaply made blinds of today offer privacy from the neighbors across the street, but little defense from the powerful lights of the streetscape. And likewise, suburban homes are packed closely together and the streetlights, although not nearly as intense as in the city, are still present.
The doctors behind the study are saying that if you can see across your bedroom once you’ve shut off the lights, it’s likely too bright. So what can you do? You can go for substance over style and invest in some thicker curtains to block out intruding light. They might be more expensive and not as easy on the eyes as some blinds, but it’s your bedroom. Remember that nobody is really going in there and you’re mainly there to sleep, so make sure you’re giving yourself the best opportunity to get some quality shut-eye.
You can also try sleeping with an eye mask. This can be uncomfortable at first, but can be effective for speeding up how fast you fall asleep. Eye masks can be dangerous, however, because if you forget it’s on, you might trip if you have out get out of bed during the night!
Light in your bedroom, no doubt, plays a role in America’s sleep shortage. Keep your televisions, smartphones, tablets, and e-readers off in the bedroom and make it a room that serves a single-purpose: getting a good night’s sleep!
McFadden, E., “The relationship between obesity and exposure to light at night: cross-sectional analyses of over 110,000 women in the Breakthrough Generations study,” American Journal of Epidemiology website, March 11, 2014; http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2014/05/29/aje.kwu117.short?rss=1. 
Chepesiuk, R., “Missing the dark: Health effects of light pollution,” National Institutes of Health website, January 2009; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2627884 .
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