Its the time of year for introspection about the past and contemplation on the future. This post isn’t going to be about all that, but rather just a small sliver…
Some of the things I’m doing to help me be a better me involves health and fitness. Now, for the past year or two when reading and researching things I can do to along these lines, one thing that constantly pops up is quality of sleep. Of course, quantity of sleep is something we’ve known about for years, and if you don’t get enough sleep it disrupts all kinds of things in your body. But recently I’ve been hearing about quality of sleep– how you don’t get real, healing, deep, rejuvenating sleep unless you are sleeping in darkness.
No, darker than that– like, pitch black darkness. Because if you don’t, your sleep ain’t doing everything it needs to be doing.
Marie Wetmore recently put up a blogpost on Better Sleep, and she says:
Sleep in an absolutely, positively dark room. You want to clear your room of anything that releases the light, or cover light sources with dark socks or hand towels. Get rid of your digital clock or stick it under your bed. Last, invest in a set of blackout shades, which will block out any city glow or late evening/early morning light.
You want a dark room because the proteins in your red blood cells have a mechanism to detect light and that information is transmitted to the brain, blocking melatonin release.
I’m pretty sure it’s been decades since I’ve slept in total darkness. Ever since I left my country boy roots behind and became a city dweller (and later a suburbanite), streetlights and porchlights and backyard lights have streamed through my windows and curtains and illuminated my nights.
Now, I’ve long held it as a point of pride my ability to sleep even when sun is streaming through the windows… and yes, I certainly can! For hours and hours in the daylight. My work schedule is such that I’m often lacking in sleep several days during the week, so I value the weekend days when I can sleep in and catch up on lost sleep.
The problem though is that my bedroom windows and curtains don’t really shut out much light at all, so from 7am or so, no matter how late I’m sleeping in, I’m sleeping in daylight… and apparently that that sleep isn’t really giving me the health benefits it should be.
Not long ago I was having lunch with my good friend Kay, and asked her if she knew where I could find a sleeping mask. I figured it would be easiest to just get one of those than to try and figure out a way to block out all the light. I’d looked into getting one like Fiona’s from the awesome show Shameless:
They actually sell these on Showtime’s website, but it’s rather pricey. I looked around for just a regular sleeping mask in a couple stores with no luck, but seeing as how Kay is a whiz at shopping I figured I’d ask her. She told me I should just get light-blocking curtains, and that she’d seen them on sale at Big Lots. A couple days later I was in Big Lots and found ‘em:
Ooo, energy efficient too? Sign me up! Even better– at checkout they were an extra $5 off. BOOYA! Melatonin, here I come!
I went home and installed the curtains in my bedroom. They’re pretty damn ugly, but no matter– we’re talking health here, not style. I close the bedroom door and the door to the master bathroom. I eyeball my alarm clock, but it’s set really, really dim and with a red glow rather than a blue glow (blue light tells your body it’s daytime and thus stops melatonin). I lay down on my bed, turn out the light.
And I’m plunged in darkness. Insane, can’t-see-your-hands-in-front-of-your-face-darkness. It actually is a little freaky, but I’m a big boy, I can handle it. I chuckle to myself, grab my phone and send a text to my friend:
So for the past three nights I’ve been sleeping in blackness. Last night I went ahead and covered my alarm clock with a box to make it seriously total dark. I have to say the sleep I’ve been getting feels… odd. Measurably different. Definitely a much deeper sleep, and I’m pretty excited to see what sort of health benefits having melatonin-rich nights back in my life will bring!