Written by Gavin Sklar, 2023 Let Go & Grow Summer Intern
Edited by The LG&G Team
In the holistic wellness space, we often talk about health optimization.
We go beyond a singular approach to one body system and focus on optimizing the body as a whole.
In this article, we will explore a profound way to optimize our biology, and hence our life- by harnessing the power of light.
What Is Light?
To boil it all the way down, light is the foundation of all life on earth. Plants use light for fuel to grow through photosynthesis, animals eat those plants, and we (humans) eat both plants and animals to sustain our life. The Earth, as we currently know, revolves around the sun, and without it, we would simply not have day and night. We would not have those beautiful sunrises and sunsets, or the glistening of ocean water.
Light from the sun manifests itself on Earth to the naked eye in different wavelengths and frequencies. For example, there is a certain type of light called Ultraviolet light that we commonly know of as UV light. This is the light that many of us apply sunscreen to our skin for, so we don’t get sunburned. The spectrum of light we will be focusing mostly on here, is blue light.
Not only is light important for our consumption of food and sustenance, but also to our circadian rhythm (known as our internal clock) and biology as a whole. For example, making our bedroom dark helps us to sleep while turning on the bedroom light can inhibit it. Research relays that the suprachiasmatic nucleus in our brain plays a major role in regulating our internal clock and accordingly our sleep-wake cycles; many times, it is called our “master clock.”
Blue light will first stimulate photoreceptor cells in the eye called rods and cones, then, signals are sent to the suprachiasmatic nucleus to regulate our biology, including our wakefulness. At a basic level, light to the eye, specifically blue light, triggers a release of certain hormones including cortisol that tells our whole body to essentially wake up and get moving. A prime example of how we might experience this directly is by opening up the shades in the morning and immediately realizing how that makes us feel.
However, falling and staying asleep is just as important. When the brain senses darkness, a portion of our brain called the pineal gland is triggered to produce melatonin, a hormone that helps us fall asleep, stay asleep, and repair our body to the fullest capacity while sleeping. When there is too much blue light before sleep, and during, our melatonin production is dramatically decreased, and therefore our quality of sleep.
Sleep and Our Health
On average, we spend about ⅓ of our life sleeping. That equates to about 30 years if we live until age 90! Meanwhile, sleep is known to be one of, if not the most important marker of health. Yet, while taking up ⅓ of our entire life, a lot of the sleep still gets overlooked. According to Dr. Andrew Huberman, “Sleep is THE foundation of our mental and physical health and performance in all endeavors.”
Unfortunately, many people struggle with sleep.
- According to the CDC, ⅓ of Americans don’t get enough sleep (being marked as less than 7 hours).
- 50-70 million people have ongoing sleep disorders.
- According to sleepfoundation.org, 40% of people with insomnia may have a diagnosed mental health condition.
- About half of all Americans say they feel sleepy during the day anywhere from three to seven times a week.
If we don’t have quality sleep, our body will not truly rest and recover like it is supposed to. Our cells will not undergo proper repair, toxins will not be flushed out of the brain, and there will be a decline in immune function. Importantly, the exercise and healthy eating we did earlier in the day will not have the most optimal effect on our health. Additionally, with poor sleep, our memories will not be consolidated nearly as well as if we got a good night’s sleep. According to John Hopkins Medicine, “a healthy amount of sleep is vital for “brain plasticity,” or the brain’s ability to adapt to input. If we sleep too little, we become unable to process what we’ve learned during the day and we have more trouble remembering it in the future.” So without consistent, good sleep, that dinner with friends, or that awesome trip to the beach that you took, has the chance of not staying in your long-term memory!
A good way to track your sleep is by keeping a sleep journal to track factors like how many hours of sleep you got, your restfulness upon waking, and even the foods you ate before bedtime. How well do you sleep at night?
- What time do you fall asleep?
- What time do you wake up?
- Do you fall asleep quickly?
- Do you wake up during the night? If so, how often?
- Do you wake up rested?
Here are just some of the many questions you can consider to assess and improve your sleep!
Harnessing Light For The Good
Now that we know the profound way light affects our health, here are some steps we could take to harness light for the good:
- Decrease blue light exposure at night (after sundown)
Many of us use cell phones, computers, and/or watch TV at night before sleep. I agree that this is very hard to avoid and is not that simple. One way we can still healthily use electronics is by wearing blue light-blocking glasses while doing so. Ra Optics is arguably the best brand on the market regarding both quality of lenses and fashion. They offer both daytime and nighttime lenses- however, the more important ones for sleep will be the nighttime option (aka “sunset” lenses).
Another great tip for light that may come into the room during sleep is to invest in blackout curtains. These curtains make the room completely dark to allow for the most melatonin production, and hence the most healing and quality night’s rest.
- Go outside first thing in the morning
Making sure to get enough light during the day is just as important as staying away from it at night; especially upon rising. Getting sunlight when you wake up helps activate your internal clock and therefore your circadian rhythms telling your body to “wake up.” Additionally, natural sunlight offers a full spectrum of light including near infrared light (NIR) which is particularly healing for our body. In particular, NIR activates certain molecules that play important roles in metabolic activity and antioxidant defenses. It can also boost blood flow to the brain!
Establishing a routine of going outside soon after waking will help set a consistent sleep-wake cycle. Plus, being outside in the fresh air helps promote lung health and mood. (Be sure to know the state of air pollution in the city you live in). In a simple yet effective manner, this can mean just opening a window if that is the only option.
- Incorporate more nature into your workspace and lifestyle
As being in the sunlight during the day is known to aid a proper sleep-wake cycle, nature is also known to enhance our mood. Maybe one day during the next week, you can bring your regular exercise routine outside or take a walk in a local park, or see if there are tables outside near you that may have wifi like a Starbucks or a local library. If you can’t get outside, try to work near or next to a window. These simple actions can work wonders.
If possible, maybe even invest in yourself by taking a full day at the beach with lots of sun. Or have a picnic with a friend. Nature has an immense power to heal that can only be truly seen through experience.
Harnessing the power of light has the potential to optimize our health in an illuminating way. With more awareness generated from this article, we can let go of limiting beliefs and habits that are in our way, to grow and expand ourselves, our relationships, and more.
Take a look at our Mind-Body Reset (MBR) program which includes a detailed package to reconnect with yourself, reset your nervous system, and remember who, what, and where you are.
How will you optimize your light today?
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Gavin Sklar is someone who strives for excellence in everything he does and is. He is passionate about feeling his best within his own body and helping others do the same. Gavin grew up playing plenty of sports with his main sport being baseball where he competed at the Varsity level in High School and was the team captain for his senior year. Sports taught Gavin the values of commitment, discipline, and effort while doing something that he loves. Additionally, growing up as the oldest of 4 children and later on the captain of the high school baseball team, he needed to learn how to lead others in many different ways for both an optimal family and team dynamic. Now, Gavin holds the positions of Content Writer at Let Go & Grow International and President of the Holistic Living Organization at UCF where he aims to grow and impact others on a daily basis.