In eras gone by, before electric lighting became ubiquitous, journal records indicate that people slept far more. This wasn’t just because there wasn’t anything else to do. Their schedules were closely linked to the presence of natural light, and changed with the seasons.
The reality for most people today is that waking up is tied to our work or school lives, and the luxury of waiting for the sun to come up is all but gone. To be sure that we don’t accidentally oversleep, we’ve come to rely on outside support. In this respect, alarm clocks certainly suffice. But try to find someone who doesn’t cringe at the sound of theirs (the light from LED alarm clocks may also be just enough to disturb natural sleep patterns).
A more satisfying approach, and one that might even show some promise for improving physical and mental health, might be to reproduce nature’s routines indoors by gradually brightening the room, thus triggering the hormonal response that brings the body out of sleep mode.
While there are products on the market today which aim to tackle this specific task, they offer function at the price of cluttering up your bedroom with obscure-looking forms. Fortunately, achieving similar results with classier equipment isn’t all that complicated. Several home control systems on the market today, ranging from simple remote controls to comprehensive home management systems, allow you to schedule a gradual brightening of the lights each morning to get the day started.
Worried you’re not going to wake up? This approach may not be for the heaviest of sleepers, but it should do the trick for most. Quoted in a recent New York Times article, Dr. George Brainard, a neurologist at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia said that, “Light works as if it’s a drug, except it’s not a drug at all.”
Light plays a direct role in influencing the body’s production of the hormone melatonin, a surge of which being what wakes us up in the morning. Essentially, melatonin production (as well as lulls in production) is what keeps us on a 24 hour schedule more or less in line with the daily rotations of the Earth. Likewise, an imbalance in melatonin levels is a primary cause of nagging problems like jet lag and thought a culprit behind the sleep irregularities frequently seen in adolescents and the elderly. It makes sense then that researchers are focused on corrective therapies that require little more than light.
Though the verdict may still be out on some of these experiments, perhaps consider conducting one of your own. That is, to see whether you’ll miss being jolted from a peaceful night’s sleep by a blaring alarm or whether a new approach to waking up might be one of those small changes that lead to big quality of life improvements.