Brain and Body

Want a Better Night’s Sleep? Brush Your Teeth in the Dark

November 3, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

Man brushing teeth in front of bathroom mirror
Photo credit: Ludosphère/Flickr (CC BY 2.)

It could work wonders.

Most people’s bedtime routines involve washing up and brushing their teeth right before snuggling up under their covers. However, the artificial lighting in our bathrooms could actually be signalling our bodies that it’s time to wake up instead of fall asleep.

A good night’s sleep is critical. According to the Telegraph, Russell Foster, professor of circadian neuroscience at Oxford University, said during a lecture on sleep at The Royal Society in London, “Sleep is the single most important behavior that we do. Across our lifespans 36 percent of our life will be spent sleeping."

SEE ALSO: Always Forget Your Dreams? This Might Help

According to Foster, exposure to artificial light before bedtime confuses our bodies since we naturally expect to be immersed in bright lights during the middle of the day. During nighttime, our bodies expect to be calmed by darkness, and other research has similarly shown that the light from our smartphones and TVs can keep us up.

In fact, researchers published a study just a few months ago (September 16) which reported that the amount of caffeine you’d get in a double espresso has less of an effect on your sleep schedule than blue light exposure late at night. No one would think it was a good idea to have a cup of coffee before trying to fall asleep, but many of us are glued to our iPhones, tablets, and laptops — devices that all emit very bright blue light.

Foster says that, particularly in the winter, artificial lighting confuses our bodies and circadian rhythms. If it were up to him, he says bathroom mirror lights would come with different settings for daytime and nighttime. The impact on our sleep quality could be huge.

Our sleep schedules can be disrupted from the opposite light effect as well — spending our days in dimly-lit offices and rooms can throw off the body’s natural expectations, especially in the wintertime when natural light is limited.

“We have this master clock ticking on the brain and each individual cells have their own little clock, so it’s rather like the conductor of an orchestra producing a signal which the rest of the body takes a cue from. There is a beautiful symphony of rhythms,“ said Foster. “But we live in these dimly-lit caves, both at home and in our offices, which are far less bright than natural light, even on a cloudy day.”

Plus, many people underestimate the negative implications of not getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep not only reduces cognition and creativity, but it also weakens the immune system and raises the risk of obesity, diabetes, cancer, and mental illness, according to the Telegraph.

Your best bet is to try and expose your body to natural light during daytime, and wind down in dimly-lit spaces in the evening. Avoid coffee before bed, and take a break from your blue-light-emitting devices. And the newest addition to the sleep-enhancing list: try brushing your teeth in the dark. You might be surprised at how your sleep schedule transforms.

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