Light and a healthy circadian rhythm are crucial for a good night’s sleep

05 Jun 2019

Back in 2017, when LYS Technologies first began its mission to empower office workers and urban dwellers with insight into how light intake is impacting their well-being — it seemed that most people needed to be convinced of the concept of a healthy circadian rhythm. Today however, a mere two years down the line, everyone is talking about light’s impact on our health, our sleep, metabolism, recovery period, mental health and energy levels.

So much has the topic exploded that Professor Russell Foster himself (one of the pioneers in light’s impact on our sleep and well-being) wrote an op-ed explaining the important connection between healthy circadian rhythms and good sleep for the BBC.

Why exactly is a healthy circadian rhythm important for our sleep and energy levels, and what has happened over the past 2 years that suddenly made everyone conscious of this correlation? The growing consciousness towards light’s impact on our health and well-being has much to do with growing research in the field and in turn larger media coverage. Over the past few years, we’ve seen circadian rhythm research linked to an entire host of case studies, including the number of car accidents, recovery after surgery, better metabolism, improvement in concentration levels and of course, our sleep.

And while the effect of our circadian rhythm is expressed differently across various aspects of our lives – at its core it shares the same foundations: its impact our sleep-wake cycle. Now some studies are more obvious than others. For example, it makes sense that car accidents are highest during the post-lunch period and in the evening, when our circadian rhythm is at a low. But it becomes a little less obvious when it has been speculated that recovery from surgery is higher when executed according to a person’s chronotype (are they a morning or evening person).

Another major reason for the sudden rise in awareness around the topic of circadian rhythms and their effect on our health has to do with education, and perhaps the winning of the Nobel Prize in Psychology or Medicine of three researchers in 2017 – sparking a whole new wave of interest. As Foster writes in his article, “Further research and greater awareness in this area could help individuals to make informed choices about prioritising their own sleep and getting enough sunlight. It could also influence the way that policies are developed by governments, educational institutions and workplaces.”

So what’s next? Educating everyone on the importance of light within our day-to-day routine is a good, if not a crucial start. Understanding what our chronotype is (are you a morning person or an evening person?) and with that, beginning to incorporate a healthy light intake that fits our personal needs. Next we will need to demand our buildings to be smarter, more human-centric. We need light, whether it is natural or artificial, our body relies on it to function during its active hours. We also need to be aware of the type of light we receive in the evening, so that we can learn to sleep again.

It all starts on the individual level, and requires each and every one of us to begin implementing small changes to our everyday. Only then can we think and act on a larger scale. In the words of Foster, “Minimising light exposure before you go to bed, and trying to get us much morning light as possible, are simple steps that could help most people to regulate and improve their sleep.”