We’re sure you’re familiar with the term “nocturnal.” When we think of the word nocturnal, we automatically think of owls, bats, and other animals that stay awake at night. However, have you heard of the term “diurnal”? Only a few people have.
Interestingly, human beings are diurnal, meaning we stay awake during daytime and sleep at night. While many people call themselves nocturnal or refer to themselves as night owls, the reality is that humans are built to stay awake and work during the day and get their rest at night.
Humans’ eyes don’t adapt to the dark that well. We don’t have the echolocation skills bats have to navigate the night sky. We also need the sun for our daily dose of Vitamin D. This means that we are biologically wired to stay awake during the day and sleep at night.
A big part of this is the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm has a lot of factors and is made up of stimuli and hormones. This internal clock in our bodies cues us to get up in the morning and go to sleep at night.
The most important of these hormones are melatonin and cortisol. If you’re thinking about sleep training your baby or just a new parent with typical sleep concerns, we’re sure you’ve heard of these two hormones.
The brain’s pineal gland produces melatonin and helps the body relax. It also helps us go to sleep and stay asleep. This is why you can buy melatonin at your local pharmacy if you want extra help to go to sleep.
If and when your baby gets a long stretch of sleep, think 11 to 12 hours, this is thanks to their pineal gland producing melatonin. You can also thank the sun and daylight because it stimulates melatonin production. The hormone is stimulated by exposure to sunlight. So, when you read that you should bring your baby outside to get a little sun to help them sleep better at night, you should follow! Because it’s true.
When the sun sets and nighttime comes, our eyes stop absorbing light. The brain takes over and releases the melatonin that was built up during the day. This time signals our brain and muscles to relax and ease back on thinking. Melatonin allows us to fall asleep peacefully and stay asleep the whole restful night.
After 12 hours, the sun rises and daylight begins to pass through the thin skin of our closed eyelids, signaling the brain that it’s time to wake up and start working again. The newly-awake brain helps us get out of bed and start checking off the things we need to do for the day.
Cortisol has many benefits, including keeping us alert during the day. To wake up and get out of bed, our brain will tell our adrenal glands to release cortisol. This hormone is crucial because it regulates blood pressure, metabolism, and sugar. It also helps our body respond to stress.
Having optimum cortisol levels is crucial to maintain some bodily functions. Consistently low or high cortisol levels will harm your overall health. Many people associate cortisol with stress. Even in discussions regarding babies and sleep, cortisol makes an appearance. Often, cortisol gets thrown in with crying babies and stress, either crying causing stress or they’re stressed, which makes them cry.
Despite this, cortisol is a crucial hormone with more benefits than adverse effects as long as stress levels are managed well.
So, there’s a deep connection between light, darkness, melatonin, cortisol, and sleep. In the past, their relationships with each other were more straightforward. Daytime meant light which meant work, and nighttime meant sleep. However, the invention of artificial electrical light affected all that.
One main aspect is blue light, the light that light bulbs, TVs, computer screens, and your smartphone emit. Basically, anything that has a screen emits blue light. Our eyes have light sensors that can tell the difference between intense bluelight waves that means bright daylight and warmer lights that mean the day is ending.
A study found that when people are exposed to a lot of blue light during the evening, their bodies don’t release as much melatonin, and sleep cycles are disrupted or delayed. Ideally, our eyes sense warmer lights, prompting our body to release natural melatonin stores. This is the effect of light on our sleep.
Nowadays, people are flooded with blue light from all the screens around them. Unfortunately, a lot of that blue light comes when we are supposed to be in darkness. So, instead of our brain realizing that it’s time to sleep, blue light makes it harder for us to fall asleep.
Getting rid of all the screens and sources of blue light in our homes is impossible. However, we can help ourselves, and our babies, get to sleep and stay asleep by turning off some of these sources a few hours before going to bed. Turning off all these lights should be part of your bedtime routine. A couple of hours before bedtime, your baby or child should be off the screen, maybe reading, before going to sleep.
Another important tip is to make your child’s sleeping area or bedroom as dark as possible. Use blackout blinds or curtains if needed. Pitch black is best if possible and reasonable for our family’s needs.
Now that you understand more about the relationship between light, darkness, and sleep you can work with it instead of going against it. Once you start doing this, you and your family’s sleep cycles will improve, and you’ll get better quality sleep, guaranteed.