Sleep Hack: Indoor Light Cycles

Try Real Hard

I have struggled with sleep for years, with falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking up functional.  My parents, one a physician and one a psychologist, are not stingy with advice: go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Get some exposure to bright light, ideally sunlight, early in the day. If you can’t fall asleep get up and do something else.  No caffeine, either ever or after a certain time.  No glowing screens within X hours before bed.  Don’t do anything besides sleep in your bed, but reading in bed before bed can prepare you for sleep.  

It’s dizzying.  

And I’ll be honest, the single most significant event in the history of my sleep struggles was not building up such a massive sleep debt in college that it put me in the hospital–though I like to reference that story whenever someone suggests you improve your life by “just” waking up an hour or two earlier–it was finding an effective medication to make me fall asleep.  Shout out, quetiapine.  

But I have figured out some sleep hacks are more effective than others.  I simply cannot work full time and get adequate sleep every night. Therefore, for me, sleeping in on weekends is a much better idea than waking up at a consistent time.  Personally, I am not effective–at anything–in the first few hours I’m awake, so giving up caffeine is a no-go for me.  

I do, however, try to go to bed at the same reasonably early time every night, and the more lights are on in the morning, the sooner I do manage to wake up, mentally.  

What Works For Me

Besides medication, the most useful hack for encouraging a consistent sleep schedule is, for me, having lights on timers so the whole house starts to get dark around 8-9 PM, and lights back up around 6 AM.  

I have at least a dozen of these guys scattered around the house:

Most of them are on aquariums or plants, but there’s enough that the house generally lights up 6-7 AM, and generally gets dark 8-9 PM. My bedroom, especially, has intense lighting that makes it hard to sleep too late in the morning. Even better, evidence suggests that exposure to bright lights early in the day helps maintain a consistent sleep cycle, which is a big part of the goal, here.

The timers are often connected to these gooseneck LED lamps:

The lights do come on all-of-a-sudden, but if you have several pointed more or less directly at the bed, you can still cobble together a somewhat gradual sunrise effect.

The Ultimate in Automatic Light Cycles

But if you’re feeling fancy, and you have a phone capable of Bluetooth, check out this bad boy:

I love mine for several reasons. It’s cool enough to be strapped to the underside of a book shelf with no worries about overheating, yet bright enough to fuel outrageous growth in a nano aquarium. I can adjust the color levels from my phone. And I can set “sunrise” to gradually turn up the light intensity over whatever span of time I want – and the process reverses for whatever sunset period I’ve scheduled.

Second to the sun itself, this LED lamp has the greatest potential for a slow, gradual change in lighting every morning and evening – and since the remote is your phone, the odds of misplacing it decrease significantly.

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