I read Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival and one of things the authors recommend is making your bedroom completely dark (Robb Wolf also recommends this). Has anyone tried this? Do you sleep better? Does it work?
It's not only our diets that have changed drastically since paleolithic times. Another thing that has important health consequences is electric lights, televisions, monitors, etc. These have been shown to shut down the body's production of melatonin (the sleep hormone). Lack of melatonin has been correlated not just with poor sleep but with cancer, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), Postpartum Depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and other ailments.
Just within the last decade it has been discovered that it is only the blue light that affects melatonin. There are actually blue light receptors in the human eye that are totally separate from the visual system and even detect a different frequency of blue light than the "cones" in the retina. The placement of these receptors is such that light from the blue sky would fall on them.
An image comes to mind of Paleolithic people sitting around the camp fire after dark, a fire emitting no blue light, so their bodies could produce plenty of melatonin.
For 42 years, Richard L. Hansler was a research physicist at GE Lighting. Near the end of his career, he was horrified to learn that his work (including more than 70 patents) may have inadvertently caused a lot of human suffering. He and others have worked hard to come up with a solution. LowBlueLights.com offers several products such as glasses that block the blue light, night lights and reading lights that emit no blue light, etc.
I've been using the glasses and night lights for only a couple of weeks (along with a simulated-dawn alarm clock) with amazing results. At 58, I've already experienced a few nights where I was able to fall asleep in minutes and sleep through till morning - something I've not experienced for many years if not decades. And yet I can use the computer, watch TV, etc. right up to bed-time.
I was in the Peace Corps in West Africa. I lived in a village without electricity, so very little artificial light.
I would start to get sleepy just after dark, sometimes as early as 7pm. That was really nice. I consider myself a "night person". It was a shock to be sleepy so early.
I miss it. When I came back to the States, the first thing I noticed was that it was not dark at night. I couldn't get tired. That's not to mention all of the TV/internet distractions available to keep me awake.
So, yes, I think a dark room will help. I've had good results with one of those eye masks that blocks out all of the light.
After reading Lights Out, what I took from it was that being in the dark is as important, probably more, than actually sleeping. Improvement in sleep may not be noticalbe but important hormonal reactions are occuring none-the-less. Sleep quality and quantity are controlled by a number of variables and changing one by only a fraction (I assume that we all sleep most of the time in a mostly dark room) will not likely result in dramatic change. Even if you don't feel like you are sleeping better, hedge your bets and keep it really dark, and go to bed as early as possbile as often as possible.
I've had good results wearing a knit cap down over my eyes. It does the job of an eye mask and keeps my head warm (which helps me sleep).
On the other end of the night, when it is still dark outside, I need to get up and catch a bus. I've found a sunrise alarm to be a life-changer: the light helps me wake up more naturally.
Slightly off topic and in reaction to the above answers, but something that is really, really important for women if they want to hack their sleep AND regulate their menstral cycles is to leave a (small) light on for the three nights around the full moon, if women sleep in a dark room 100% of the time they can loose their regularity....
"I read recently that it is wise for women to follow the cycle of the moon in the sky if they want to live a life with a naturally fertile and regular menstrual cycle. This means sleeping in total and utter darkness every night, except for the three nights around the full moon, when a light may be left on to simulate moonshine coming through the window – or even better – actually letting the moonshine come in through the window. A regular menstrual cycle will kick-in gradually if darkness and light are made to mirror the moon’s cycle exactly. Women rarely show an absolute 28 day cycle as it is commonly believed; if given the right lighting conditions, they will follow the moon’s month; which is slightly longer. For young girls about to begin menstruation, I believe it is the moon’s cycle that triggers regularity right from the beginning." from here
The book cited is: 'Moon Time' by Johanna Paungger
Last summer I rigged up a curtain using blackout cloth from Joann Fabrics and have enjoyed sleeping in total darkness ever since. However, now when I sleep anywhere else, the quality of my sleep definitely suffers. I'm not sure whether I've actually reduced my tolerance for sleeping in the presence of light, or if I'm getting the same quality of sleep I always used to get and only now recognize it as poor by comparison. Keeping my face covered with sheets or a shirt does help out a lot, though.
To achieve zero circadian stimulus, the monitor must completely zero both blue and green channels. f-lux doesn’t do that. My batch file does But it only works for Nvidia cards.
The following two scripts can be copied and pasted into text files, then change their extensions to .bat. You can make a shortcut to them and set it to run minimized to avoid seeing the momentary command-line window too :)
rundll32.exe NvCpl.dll,dtcfg set_normalize_brightness 0 green 0.0 rundll32.exe NvCpl.dll,dtcfg set_normalize_brightness 0 blue 0.0 rundll32.exe NvCpl.dll,dtcfg setcontrast 0 green -82 rundll32.exe NvCpl.dll,dtcfg setcontrast 0 blue -82
Restore to normality:
rundll32.exe NvCpl.dll,dtcfg set_normalize_brightness 0 green 0.5 rundll32.exe NvCpl.dll,dtcfg set_normalize_brightness 0 blue 0.5 rundll32.exe NvCpl.dll,dtcfg setcontrast 0 green 0 rundll32.exe NvCpl.dll,dtcfg setcontrast 0 blue 0
I find I sleep longer when the room is completely dark, so in effect, I imagine my body is able to sleep as long as it needs or wants to - as opposed to sleeping until the daylight cues my brain to start waking up.
Though I don't have this at home right now, its mainly at hotels, and when visiting families that I get this benefit from darkness. I just don't have any curtains at home.
I think it is significant because one would normally think that sleeping elsewhere you would get less sleep from a non-usual sleeping place, but in fact I tend to sleep better on vacation.
I should probably get some curtains, eh?
One of the factors most people neglect about sleep is cortisol levels. Our ancestors experienced accute stress rather than than the chronic stress we experience in our tumultuous, complex modern lives. Their cortisol levels would be high in the morning which would provide them the vigor to get through most of the day, and it would gradually, reliably go down to nill as the evening approached. Most people nowadays though, have their minds racing all the times with the problems of the past and of the future. Even while they're in bed trying to sleep which of course disrupts it and makes them even more stressful and incapable of handling stressful situations the next day. Sorta like a feedback loop.
Step one as others have mentioned is to get rid of all the lights in your bedroom (including LED lights emitting from alarm clocks). Any for of light inhibits melatonin. Get blackout curtains. Also, get rid of your alarm clocks period. Next is exercise. You either fall into two categories of being lazy as shit or being an overtrained marathon runner. Too much exercise will leave you with elevated cortisol levels. Too little will do the same. The Primal Blueprint and The Paleo Solution are good sources on all these matters.
Robb Wolf also recommends taking vitamin C supplements in the evening before you go to sleep. (Emergen-C)