For the past few years my husband and I have had an ongoing debate about whether our bedroom is dark enough. We live on Puget Sound and there is a lot of light pollution from aircraft, boats, and the moon’s reflection on the water. Til recently we had blinds but not black out shades on our windows, with two side windows uncovered. The tipping point came a few months ago when new neighbors installed a spotlight that shines right above my head.
If my husband had it his way we wouldn’t even put the blinds down, he preferred to wake up to the Sun and see the view in the morning, but when I started taping cardboard over our windows to cover the neighbors spotlight, he recognized we needed a better solution. So we agreed it was time to replace our blinds with black out shades.
When I say black out shades, I’m talking about I can’t see my hand in front of my face dark. The day after the installation my husband confessed that he hadn’t slept that deeply in a very long time. A week later he said that he had changed his mind as he had noticed that he was sleeping so deeply he felt comatose. I concurred.
I never fully appreciated the benefits of black out shades until I worked in Alaska. In the lower 48 the seasonal variations are not dramatic enough to seem significant but they are. In Alaska the variations are impossible to ignore. Black out shades also block out the environmental light pollution that is so ubiquitous in our lives we almost forget that it is there.
The neurophysiology is pretty straightforward. Light stimulates blue light sensitive cells on our retina, which then travels through the optic nerve and optic chiasm to the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The SCN is the pacemaker or master clock in our brains. When light is present, the SCN suppresses melatonin production. In other words, darkness is what generates our natural endogenous melatonin production.
In short, ditch your unregulated melatonin supplements and get yourself some black out shades! Do you have black out shades?