Bright Lights, Big Fatigue


We all go through periods when we don't quite get enough sleep: a new baby, a busy period at work, exams…there are as many different reasons as there are people. 

The best fix is making sleep a priority - set a sleep schedule, establish a bedtime routine, and learn some pre-La-La-Land relaxation techniques. But let’s face it, with today’s lifestyles, it isn’t always possible to prioritize sleep.  So what can you do?

First off, with less sleep, the first thing to go is mental capacity, or cognition. You process information slower, you are less creative, and you may notice mood changes. If you are losing sleep from something that is unavoidable and hopefully short term, there are some things you can do to minimize some of the cognitive deficits. 

Our natural sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, is at the heart of it. The physiological basis for this lies with two hormones: melatonin and cortisol. Melatonin is the trigger for sleep, cortisol is the trigger to wake up. Our eyes are intimately related to this cycle, and specifically to our exposure to light and darkness. Melatonin is stimulated by exposure to darkness; minimizing your light exposure at night (including TV and cellphones) is a great idea. If you have a hard time turning off your devices at night, a less-than perfect alternative is using some blue light blocking technology; the iPhone has something called "Nightshift" built in that changes the colour of light the screen emits. On my computer I have an app called "f.lux", which does the same thing. 

Falling asleep in the dark is not a foreign concept to a lot of people, but exposure to bright light in the morning often is. Bright light in the morning can help stimulate proper levels of cortisol and improve mental functioning [2]. If you’re a late riser and the sun is up, it can be as simple as going outside or opening your blinds. If you are an early riser, getting some bright artificial light might be enough. You could go as far as purchasing an alarm clock that mimics the sun rising, it wakes you up slowly with light, or light therapy glasses

Regardless if you had a poor night sleep or not, many people will still get the dreaded mid-afternoon energy dip. It typically happens after you've eaten lunch and need to get back to work. Bright light can help here too. Before or during that post-lunch dip, getting some bright light exposure (either artificial or natural) can help mitigate that cognitive decline [3]. 

In a nutshell, bright light (blue light) during the day, and dim light (orange light) at night can have a profound impact on your sleep. Try it for a week and let me know how you feel. 

If you have any questions about how you can reach your greatness, don't hesitate to book an appointment, contact me, or stop by the clinic.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Oake