The side effects that result from a lack of sleep are numerous and worrying: Mood swings, cognitive impairment, irregular heartbeat, increased stress... I could go on. But one strange trick to help you sleep easier that may have escaped mainstream research is wearing sunglasses before bed. I know, I know — it sounds really weird. But bear with me; I promise it'll be useful. Some scientists postulate that slipping on a pair of sunnies when it gets close to bedtime is the key to better shut-eye, largely because it might help our brains relax after too much exposure to bright light.
Sleep researcher Glenn Landry recently explained to CBC that too much light exposure at night can interfere with the body's circadian clock, which is our natural sleep rhythm. "We have artificial sources of light available to us 24 hours a day," said Landry, who is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Aging, Mobility, and Cognitive Neuroscience Lab at the University of British Columbia. "We've got our laptops with us, and we're doing email and we're watching TV late at night. And so we're getting light at night, [which] impacts our circadian rhythms, our daily biological rhythms."
Landry actually wears sunglasses himself at night to ease his body into a sleep-ready state before he actually closes his eyes. He explained, "Beginning at eight at night, two hours before [the] time I want to go to bed, I wear sunglasses. Not because my future's so bright, but because I'm trying to avoid light. I'm trying to tell my clock that this is the end of the day,"
And apparently monitoring our internal clock is more important as we head out of our 20s. Teresa Liu-Ambrose, a research chair in physical activity, mobility, and cognitive neuroscience at UBC who oversees Landry's research explained to CBC that sleep is increasingly important for our health when we get older.
"In your 20s you might have gotten away with it. When you're older ... you have to be a little more diligent about providing that stimuli at the most appropriate time," she said. Liu-Ambrose also explained that she's working on research that links sleep and dementia as so she can help prevent cognitive decline in seniors. She added: "Sleep has a lot of potential for preserving brain health across the lifespan. ... Slowly, but surely, we're all recognizing it."
Of course extensive research into these claims about sunglasses is definitely needed before we can say definitively that putting on a pair of shades will help you sleep better at night. But there has been a lot of research conducted about the way in which light and timed exposure to it regulates our circadian rhythm. It's why we're often encouraged to put away our laptops, tablets, and phones after the sun goes down — research has shown that the blue light emitted by most electronic devices disrupts how our bodies produce melatonin, which in turn can make it harder for us to get to sleep. The light put out by the lightbulbs in your home might not be blue light, but we do know that the invention of the electric light has contributed to humans staying up later and later over time. So, using sunglasses to ease our brains into a sleep-ready state by providing darkness cues makes perfect sense to me.
Whether or not the sunglasses trick holds up under scrutiny, though, one thing's for certain though: Sleep is absolutely necessary to a healthy existence — and it has to be good quality sleep, too. Research from the University of Rochester published in 2013 found that sleep helps your brain to remove toxic proteins from its neurons that build up when you’re awake; furthermore, other studies have shown that shut-eye can help us get more creative and better in bed. So with all these proven benefits, there's no reason not to get your glasses on before bedtime (besides possibly looking a little silly, I mean).
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