Man lying in bed holding smartphone at night and glow from screen illuminating his face.

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Sleep and the 5 Senses: Sight

· Article

Sleep and the 5 Senses: Sight

Our eyes and our sense of sight play a crucial role in both the quality and quantity of the sleep we get. Light, colors and images in the crucial hours before bedtime can mean the difference between visions of sugar plums and counting the cracks in your bedroom ceiling.


As part of a series on sleep and the five senses, we’re focusing on sight and what getting a solid night of shut-eye really looks like.


Banish the Blues

Personal technology seems to dominate our world today. But blue light, the very specific wavelength of light that keeps our phones, laptops and tablets aglow, is particularly harmful to sleep.


“The thing about light is that it suppresses the release of a natural hormone in your body known as melatonin. And you need that melatonin to sleep,” explains Dr. Raj Dasgupta, spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Foundation. “Blue light is in regular sunlight, but it’s in higher concentrations when we talk about iPhones and iPads and Kindles.”


Before heading to bed, give your eyes a break from blue light. Harvard Health Publications recommends spending the two or three hours before bedtime away from screens. If you sleep with a nightlight, use a dim, red light. “Red light has the least power to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin,” Harvard Health notes.


Watch Where You’re Watching

Beyond blue light, there’s a behavioral aspect to consider when it comes to taking your laptop to bed or flicking on the tube before dozing off. “The bed is only meant for one thing: sleeping,” explains Dasgupta.


Doing anything besides sleeping in bed can cause your brain to establish associations that ultimately work against being restful.


“If you have the TV in the bedroom it sets that precedent that maybe the bed isn’t just for sleeping,” says Dasgupta.


Rather than mounting a flat screen on your bedroom wall or letting your laptop charge from your nightstand, surround yourself with visual cues to relax. This could mean calming artwork, a color palette you find soothing or a flower arrangement that brings you feelings of peace.


Embrace Your Mind’s Eye

While most sight-related sleep advice is focused on what you shouldn’t be looking at, there is a proactive way to use your sense of sight that aids relaxation and encourages sleep.


“Guided imagery is a wonderful technique to help bring on sleep,” says Dr. Robert S. Rosenberg, a physician who specializes in sleep and author of The Doctor’s Guide to Sleep Solutions for Stress & Anxiety. Give it a try by tapping into your memory bank of positive images that you find especially relaxing. Dr. Rosenberg suggests a river or beach, but you can use any real or hypothetical images that you find comforting. If you draw a blank or struggle to maintain focus, trying using auditory cues from one of the many instructional downloads or apps that that are available online.


The takeaway? When it comes to sleep and your sense of sight, less is more. We close our eyes for a reason; eliminate anything that encourages them to stay open. Give your eyes less to do and you’ll be more likely to enjoy an evening of sweet dreams.



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