I’ve discussed elsewhere on my site the importance of reducing our exposure to xenobiotic agents (plastics, microwaves, etc.). I’ve also discussed the notion that we emit light, known as ultra-weak bioluminesence or the emission of biophotons. It is now believed in the field of biophysics that our cells use this light to communicate at a fundamental level.
If the body uses light to communicate with itself, what might external sources of light be communicating with our bodies – like the Sun, for instance? Also, to what extent might artificial lighting be another xenobiotic health hazard, similar to plastics and microwaves?
The study of the body’s relationship with time is referred to as chronobiology. The body’s circadian rhythm is how well it keeps in sync with the cycles of night and day.
It turns out that your brains central circadian oscillator (the suprachiasmatic nucleus, i.e. the clock) is timed by the subtle color spectrum that the Sun puts out based on where it is in the sky, given the time of day and your latitude on the planet. There is literally a clock in your brain that keeps time with the Sun – a bio-Sun-dial. More on this in a bit.
Light – It’s Important
Our bodies are so sensitive to light that there are structures inside of us that are specially designed to absorb and release light – melanin, -opsins, chromophores, flourophores, aromatic amino acids, and the respiratory proteins in every one of your mitochondria. As the field of quantum biology continues to evolve, we are beginning to understand the body as increasingly sensitive to the seemingly subtle effects of light in our environment.
Your skin even sees the light. There are photoreceptors (called melanopsin) on your skin that help tell the body when it’s night and when it’s day. Ever wondered why it’s sometimes so hard to fall asleep for that nap you desperately need, if it’s in the middle of the day in a well-lit room?
Not only that but we now know that your gene expression changes throughout the day based on what time your body thinks it is! Every single cell in your body has it’s own mini-clock that’s controlled by the big brain clock behind your eyes, down to the genetic level.
So what effect does this have on health?
The second you take a look at that brightly-lit, LED cell phone screen, you tell your brain that it’s high noon and it’s time for a picnic – no matter what time it really is. The color temperature of your cell phone screen matches the color temperature of the sun at high noon – and your brain can’t tell the difference.
Telling your brain that it’s time for a picnic inhibits the release of melatonin, the super-powerful hormone of sleep (and one of the most anti-oxidant compounds in the body, next to glutathione) and thereby inhibits your ability to have deep, restorative sleep.
Leading the Anti-LED Revolution
If your house is lit with LEDs, CFLs, or other artificial lights, your sleep will suffer. The color temperature of artificial lighting most often resembles that of the mid-day Sun and thereby inhibits the release of melatonin. This is technically true for incandescent bulbs as well, but these are the preferred lights if you want to begin repairing your circadian biology – especially amber incandescent. As for me, my house is entirely lit by salt lamps. I turn on my amber incandescent bulbs when I need to see something after dark with greater detail.
If you want to go full paleo, you’d go with candle light! Oh, the glorious sleep you would have!
Some companies are now manufacturing “amber LEDs” with a low Kelvin (Kelvin is the measurement for color temperature, represented as “K”). While this is certainly preferable to high Kelvin LEDs (which are standard), there are problems with LED lights beyond the color temperature. Firelight and the light of the Sun has a broad range of frequencies that are emitted. In other words, there are many colors of light that you can’t necessarily see. LED lights are more similar to a laser than to a natural light source. When you plot the frequencies emitted by an LED light on a graph, it looks like a spike rather than a bell curve. The “spike” is literally poking your retina. Not good.
Next time you have an incandescent or fire light source and an LED light source both handy, look at an object with the broader spectrum light sources (incandescent, fire) and then compare it to when the object is lit by LED. You will notice that LED light makes things look two-dimensional. Because there isn’t a broad spectrum of frequencies for your eye to receive the information bouncing off the object, the object looks dull and – quite literally – 2D. Try it.
What to do?
Fixing the light pollution in your environment is actually quite simple, but it takes commitment. If you really want to improve your sleep, take seriously the following and you will reap the results. Time and time again my clients are astounded at the difference that this subtle lifestyle change can make. I’ve even seen teenagers begin to go to bed on time! When I changed the quality of light I expose myself to on a daily basis, it completely changed my life.
- Change all your lightbulbs to amber incandescent. If this is to tall of an order, start by changing the bedroom and bathroom lights to amber incandescent.
- Change the color of all screens you have control over.
iPhone users (“Night mode” is not enough): Go to General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations > Color Filter > Color Tint > Hue 100%, Intensity — as red as you can stand it.
Android users: Download the app “Twilight”. Make it as red as you can stand it.
PC users: If you have a PC you can also download the app “f.lux” (here is the link) and change your screen settings with that. Again, make it as red as you can stand it.
- For the quickest circadian reset, wake up with the rising Sun, go outside, kick your shoes off, and watch the Sun come over the horizon with your bare feet touching the ground. Morning sunlight on the retina drastically increases the production of melatonin for it’s secretion later in the day – it starts the timer. If you want to take this even a step further, synchronize your circadian oscillator with crucial times throughout the day. Use an app (or Google) to determine when the Sun is at it’s zenith and when it sets that day. Briefly expose your retina to sunlight at high noon and sunset along with sunrise. Timing your eyes to the Sun only takes about 5 mins of exposure at first. The more you do it, the more your circadian rhythm becomes synchronized with the Sun, and the less time it takes to cue the clock! (And no, I’m not asking you to stare into the Sun. Sun-gaze at your own risk folks!)
- For the second quickest circadian reset, try wearing blue blocking glasses 2-3 hours before you intend to fall asleep. Do not expose your retinas to any artificial light after you put them on or you will reset your clock.
- For extra help, try supplementing lithium orotate and a high quality fish oil with DHA – especially the night before you intend to wake up with the sun and expose your eyes to morning sunlight. Lithium helps transport DHA through the blood-brain barrier and into the suprachiasmatic nucleus. DHA is largely responsible for the sensitivity of your circadian clock (because of the way DHA interacts with light!), and the highest concentration of DHA in the human body happens to be in the suprachiasmatic nucleus.