Midnight Sun

I’ve been struggling to get back to a normal sleep schedule after our recent vacation in Puerto Vallarta, seven timezones earlier than Germany. I think I know where at least part of the blame lies — and it’s not in my bed.

midnight-sunWe think they switched out the bulb in the streetlight across the street from our bedroom while we were away. It seems MUCH brighter than what Sarah and I remember. What a dirty trick!

I noticed the effect ambient light has on my sleep schedule and quality a couple years ago. I’d trained myself, or so I thought, to get up pretty much every day at pretty much the same time (barring extreme situations like 34 hours of airports and airliners). Then we stayed the night in the guest room at some friends’ house where the rising sun could not gradually cast light into the room. I misjudged my sleep time and got moving about 3 hours later than I expected. The difference became clear fairly quickly: that room was insulated against sunlight like a tomb. When I stepped out into the hallway, the streaming broad daylight nearly knocked me over.

Add this apparently pretty strong light dependency to an unusually stressful February with multiple business and personal trips near the end of a long, dark winter, and time zone shifts galore both at home and abroad in March, and I suppose it’s no big surprise that my sleep schedule is screwed up. I’m going to try lowering our shutters completely to tombify our bedroom and relying on alarm clocks and/or Sleep Cycle again to get me back on track — at least until the light-sensitive parts of my brain get used to that big glowing artificial moon* outside our bedroom.

Here’s to a solid night’s rest.


5 thoughts on “Midnight Sun”

  1. Tammy

    There are tons of studies on night time lighting and animal health (including humans). It is significant. There is even an organization comprised mostly of scientists that advocates for appropriate night lighting (which is not like the big-ass bulb on your street). I went to one of their meetings once, but now I forget their name – I think it is Dark skies association or something like that. They have some good resources.

    1. Christopher Kyba

      Hi Cliff (and Tammy),

      I found your post when I was looking for a photo of light shining into a bedroom window. I think Tammy is probably talking about the International Dark Sky Association http://www.darksky.org/ (full disclosure, I am a member of its board of directors.)

      If the lamp is a “white” LED bulb, the problem might not be how bright the lamp is, but that it has a large amount of blue light in it. Blue light prevents your brain from secreting melatonin, and so it’s unfortunately not something that you can “get used to”. It’s not fair that you have to shut your blinds against the light, because as you say, natural sunlight helps you wake up in the morning, and your blinds will block that out, too.

      Properly designed LED streetlamps don’t shine light into people’s bedroom windows, so you should try to get in touch with your city’s lighting department. Some LED lamps have the ability to turn off individual bulbs to customize where the light goes, and it’s possible that they could turn off the ones that are shining in your room. Even if they won’t do anything to help you, you should let them know they screwed up your street so that when they install lamps on another street in your city they do it more carefully (or choose a different brand with better control). Almost all LEDs can also be dimmed, so you could ask them to turn the brightness down after midnight.

      There is a lot of information available at the IDA’s website, so please check it out and consider signing up to our newsletter. If you want to help IDA help prevent bad lighting like this, please consider becoming a member of the organization.

      1. cliff1976

        Thanks for the info, Christopher Kyba — I will take a look at the website!

        The light from the streetlamp does seem bluer than it used to — perhaps that’s playing a role besides the intensity.

  2. Mom

    Definitely get the room dark. Don’t forget the little LED lights for all the clocks, chargers, shavers, etc. They add a LOT of light to a room that can impact your ability to sleep soundly. Dad puts electrical tape over them so the room, with a charger in every outlet, doesn’t look like a landing strip.

    Every light source that makes it possible to walk around at night without stumbling also prevents you from sleeping well.


  3. cliff1976

    Thanks Tammy and Mom!

    I am pleased to report that lowering our blinds ALL the way — closing up even the little slits I used to use to let the sunlight in gradually in the mornings — has appeared to make a marked improvement in the quality of my sleep since having written this post.

    Making it extra super-dark in there has prompted me to keep one of the myriad of free-from-Aco flashlights around in the bedroom just in case I do need to get up in the middle of the night for something. And the one charging LED we typically have in there makes a big difference now, too (it didn’t seem to before), so we’ve eliminated that, as well.

What's your take on it?