The Top 6 Color & Light Secrets for Boosting your Brain Power, Health & Productivity
Your Ultimate Guide for Sound Sleep Using Fast & Easy Light-Therapy-Science Solutions
Over the past few years I’ve shared with thousands of viewers, the best ways to use Light, Sunlight and Color to Sleep Great, Heal your Body & Mind and Amp up your Productivity. The positive feedback has been amazing so I’m combining the most helpful information in one place as your Ultimate Sleep & Health Guide.
I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below. And please share this post with anyone you feel might benefit. Thanks!
It’s 7 am. The alarm clock starts blaring and …
you groggily reach over to swat it into snooze-ville. You’re wishing for nothing more than an extra hour of sleep. Lately, you just never feel rested in the morning although you go to bed plenty early every night.
Sound familiar? At night, do you toss and turn for several hours, finally nodding off to sleep, but wake up feeling exhausted? Or maybe you conk out only to reawaken a few hours later, unable to get back to sleep? Do you feel tired all the time?
In all of these cases, your health may be suffering far more than you realize.
Our Brains Need Sleep to Function Properly: How Can I Boost my Brain Power & Amp up my Productivity?
Did you know that every night while you sleep, your brain is designed to do a kind of ‘system defrag’ to sort through all the information from your day? All the stuff you learned that day gets organized, filed and stored into long term memory while you’re in Deep Sleep (also known as Slow Wave Sleep (SWS)).
Yep, our brains are just like our computers, according to research.
If you’ve ever experienced your computer getting slower and slower, crashing constantly and just not working as fast as you need it to, that’s what happens to your brain when you don’t get enough high quality sleep.
If you’re not entering Deep Sleep, your nightly “brain defrag”, as I like to call it, doesn’t happen. So the next day, your ability to think clearly, focus and concentrate is dramatically reduced. And this effect gets worse each day as long as you’re not giving your brain the Deep Sleep it needs.
With your computer, there’s an easy fix – you simply do a full system defragmentation. Your computer starts working and processing data quickly again without all the system crashes.
Fortunately, for our brains, there’s also a very easy solution.
It’s not just our brains that suffer from poor sleep. Sleep deprivation can also:
- make you gain weight
- speed up aging
- increase stress
- reduce your ability to think clearly, focus and concentrate
- cause chronic fatigue
- kill your productivity at work
- dramatically shorten your life
The good news is, for all of these problems, there’s one simple solution to Get your sleep hygiene and health back on track.
And it all has to do with getting properly timed Blue Light exposure. Keep Reading to learn how …
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In a hurry? Just Watch the Short Video Below OR
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Learn how to Sleep More Soundly Starting Tonight
Video: How to Use Sunlight & Blue Light to Sleep Great, Boost Productivity & Slow down Aging
About Blue Light & our Body Clock
First of all, Let’s examine Why so many People are having a very Difficult Time Sleeping nowadays
And why have we become a nation so dependent on caffeine and other stimulants to keep us awake and alert and try to keep the brain fog at bay?
Not that coffee is a bad thing when you don’t overdo it. (The flavor of coffee is one of nature’s greatest inventions, in my humble opinion. (Ok, and maybe chocolate). But I digress.)
Moderation in coffee – and all things – is key. Whenever you repeatedly use a short-term fix to manage a long-term imbalance, your health can suffer – a lot. This includes using excessive stimulants, like caffeine, to try to counter your fatigue.
It’s much healthier, not to mention simpler, to fix the root of the problem.
To fix your sleep problem, you need Blue Light – but ONLY AT CERTAIN TIMES.
If you get Blue Light at the wrong time, it can cause numerous health problems.
So What’s the Connection – Why do We Need Blue Light for Healthy Sleep?
In 1923, a Harvard grad student was experimenting with what he thought were blind mice. He discovered that, although they couldn’t see objects, they could still perceive light. And the sleep-wake cycles of these “blind” mice were directly controlled by the light. This discovery is particularly relevant to today’s sleep-deprivation epidemic.
It turns out that mammals, including humans, have a special photoreceptor in their eyes which enables them to detect a certain type of light. Even when their normal vision isn’t working, mammals can sense these specific lightwaves and know when it is daytime or nighttime.
This important research was largely ignored by the medical and scientific community for almost 80 years, but in the 1990’s, this key photoreceptor was re-discovered in the human eye. In 2001, a team at Thomas Jefferson University published the study “Action Spectrum for Melatonin Regulation in Humans: Evidence for a Novel Circadian Photoreceptor”.
This study demonstrates that there is a direct connection between this photoreceptor and how melatonin is produced in the body.
What is Melatonin and Why is it So Important for Your Sleep and Health?
Melatonin is that all-important hormone that helps us get sleepy. It’s also an extremely potent anti-oxidant and cancer preventer.
Melatonin is responsible for preventing countless illnesses including most types of cancer. There are now hundreds of studies from around the world linking low melatonin levels with almost every type of cancer.
With all the current research, we now understand how those Harvard mice were able to sense light. And we now also know why that discovery is so important for good sleep hygiene and optimal health.
Blue Light is the key to Melatonin production
Unlike the cones in our eyes (which sense objects and colors in well-lit conditions) and rods (which are responsible for night vision), these special photoreceptors in our eyes are particularly sensitive to blue light, especially the narrow band that corresponds to midday sunlight from a clear blue sky (ie approximately 460-480 nm).
Sunlight during the day contains blue light
In the middle of the day, the sky is full blue
So why should you care about these tiny Blue-light Photoreceptor Cells in your eyeballs?
By sensing blue daylight, the “blue light photoreceptors” are responsible for telling your body when it’s daytime; they turn off melatonin production during the day, and are key to promoting melatonin production at night.
Unfortunately nowadays, with our predominantly indoor lifestyles, most people don’t get enough sunlight exposure.
We live round-the-clock under artificial light.
The result of this modern lifestyle? Most people have extremely low melatonin levels since our bodies think it’s daytime all the time. And we now have a growing population of insomniacs with worsening health issues.
Our circadian (daily) rhythms are completely out of whack and the negative health impacts are tremendous.
3 Do’s (and 1 Big Don’t): Blue Light Solutions to Help you Sleep better – Starting Tonight
DO Spend Time Outdoors during the Day – ideally 30-60 minutes every day.
We evolved to be outdoors working or hunting during the daylight hours. When we spend at least 30-60 minutes outside during the day, it tells our bodies what time of day it is. So at night, our bodies automatically know when it’s time to produce melatonin and get sleepy.
When you’re outdoors, not only do you get all the benefits of blue light, you get all of the healing colors found in sunlight plus UVA and UVB (each of which has healing benefits). (More on all this in an upcoming post)
Whenever I spend time outdoors during the day, even if only for 30-60 minutes, I sleep better that night, especially if I get out early enough in the day.
I make a point to take a work break each day to sit outdoors or go for a walk in the morning before midday to tell my body clock my day has begun.
I get much sleepier at night and sleep more soundly than when I work indoors all day.
(I’ve long believed that one of the main reasons that children who spend time outdoors during the day, sleep much better at night because of the blue light they’re getting (it’s not just about the fresh air as our parents use to tell us)).
If you’re trying to reprogram your sleep schedule to get sleepy and go to bed earlier, then early morning light is the best (once the sun is starting to rise in the sky)
AS soon as you wake up, open up your bedroom curtains to let the early morning light inside.
Once the sun is rising in the sky, either go outdoors (best) or look out the window at the sky for 15 minutes. This will tell your body clock that it’s the beginning of the day and you’ll start getting sleepy earlier that same night. The light is always brighter outdoors than inside your house and has a stronger effect than just looking through the window.
2nd BEST: If it’s too Cold to be Outdoors?
DO Work next to a Window.
(And if you can’t do that or on days when it’s cloudy, see Solution #3 below.)
A November 2014 study was published at The Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul titled “Lack of exposure to natural light in the workspace is associated with physiological, sleep and depressive symptoms”.
This study analyzed corporate employees, some working next to a window, others with no windows. The two groups had very different melatonin and cortisol levels.
“The ‘with window’ group had a lower melatonin level at 08:00 am, but a higher level at 10:00 pm than the ‘without window’ group.” — This is GOOD.
We should have 100% melatonin production at night and only 10% during the day.
People who got the proper amounts of daylight exposure produced more melatonin at nighttime (which our bodies are supposed to do).
Cortisol and Stress Levels Go Up when you DON’T get Blue Light
From the same 2014 study, the ‘without window’ group had “lower melatonin levels at 10:00 pm (which) were correlated with depressive symptoms and poor quality of sleep.”
Nighttime cortisol levels for the ‘without window’ group were much higher than the ‘with window’ group which “correlated with minor psychiatric disorders and depressive symptoms at 10:00 pm”.
Translation: The people who didn’t get daytime blue light exposure were far more likely to suffer from depression or psychiatric disorders.
An article published in Psychology Today, “Cortisol: Why ‘The Stress Hormone’ Is Public Enemy No. 1”, shows that high cortisol levels also reduce life expectancy. They add that, “Scientists have known for years that elevated cortisol levels: interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease… The list goes on and on.”
Learn how to reduce cortisol levels using Color & Art Therapy
3rd BEST: What if I don’t work next to a window and I can’t get outdoors during the day? Or what if it’s Cloudy all the time where I live?
DO Use a Blue Light Therapy Device.
I have an amazing little Blue Light Therapy Device that I use whenever I can’t get outdoors and my sleep cycle starts to get out of whack.
How Do you Use a Blue Light Therapy Device?
You simply set the device on your desk next to where you’re working or reading, and turn it on for 15-45 minutes first thing in the morning. You can continue working or doing whatever you’re doing so it doesn’t take any additional time. (These blue light devices work far better than the big, old-fashioned bright light therapy devices since they deliver just the blue wavelengths that are responsible for regulating your circadian rhythms.)
Your body immediately starts resetting itself and you start sleeping better that same night. (You can do this same thing with natural sunlight – see Solution #1 above.)
If you live somewhere that it’s often cloudy or you work in an office with no windows, you can supplement your DAYTIME blue light requirement by using your Blue Light Therapy Device at work. You can also use it as an after-lunch pick-me-up.
I keep my blue light on my office desk to use for 15 minutes in the morning on days when I can’t get outdoors or it’s cloudy.
I recently recommended blue light therapy to the coordinator I was working with for a big international conference I was speaking at. She told me she worked in an office with no windows. I was curious so I asked her how she slept at night. She said she could never sleep more than 4 hours a night & felt exhausted all the time.
I told her about blue light therapy and the device that I use, and she got on Amazon and ordered one that same day. Two weeks later, she had already received her device and started using it. She emailed me to excitedly tell me she was now sleeping a minimum of 6-7 hours every night, and felt great! She started using the blue light for her son, too, and his teacher told her he was much happier in school and doing much better in class.
These dramatic shifts took less than a week – this is how fast this stuff works when your body knows what time of day it is!
And by the way, the same blue light therapy device can also be used for treating Jetlag, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS).
(For more Blue Light Therapy applications and to read My Personal Story about how I shifted my sleep cycle 3 full hours in just 3 days, visit my page Blue Light – Why is it So Important?)
And now the big DON’T …
Ok, so now we know that we need to get blue light from natural sunlight to be alert during the day and sleepy at night.
So what happens if we get this same blue light at nighttime? And how is that even possible?
Getting blue light during the day is a very good thing, but if you see it at night, your body clock goes haywire.
It thinks it’s daytime so it shuts off melatonin production – and that’s a very bad thing. We need melatonin for healthy and restful sleep.
And remember how melatonin is an extremely important hormone and a powerful anti-oxidant? It protects our bodies from all sorts of illnesses and helps us heal more quickly from cancer and other diseases.
Woman on iPad at night with a blue-lit face from the LED screen
It turns out that all modern technology using LED screens emit a high percentage of this blue light which tells our bodies to stop producing melatonin. And that’s very bad for your health.
These LED devices includes all iPads, computers, tablets and smartphones.
When our eyes see this blue light at nighttime, it tells our bodies, “It’s the middle of the day – shut off melatonin production for at least 1.5 hours!”
That’s why using any of these devices at night will very likely cause insomnia and/or poor sleep.
PLUS, this popular use of nighttime electronics is directly contributing to the growing epidemic of declining health, depression, weight gain and low productivity across all age groups.
A December 2014 study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital analyzed people who read before bedtime, comparing those reading from any LED screen (laptops, smart phones, iPads, eReaders) versus old-fashioned paper books.
Participants reading these blue-light-emitting LED screens “took longer to fall asleep, were less sleepy in the evening, and spent less time in REM sleep” and they had reduced melatonin levels at night.
They were also “less sleepy before bedtime, but sleepier and less alert the following morning after eight hours of sleep.”
Another 2014 study from the University of Florida, titled “Beginning the Workday Yet Already Depleted? Consequences of Late-night Smartphone Use and Sleep” found that…
…with both top level executives and employees across a wide range of fields, smartphone use after 9 p.m. was associated with decreased sleep quantity at night.
This caused morning depletion the next day leading to dramatically decreased work engagement and productivity for that day.
BONUS: Good Sleep & Sunlight aids Flow State
An added bonus of getting adequate blue light levels during the day and good, restful sleep at night is that it greatly enhances your ability to tap into Flow State (aka The Zone). I’ll cover this in more detail in a future post. Stay tuned! (Subscribe to be notified of my upcoming Blog Posts)
- In general, it’s healthiest to get natural sunlight exposure (which contains blue light) during the day. Best is outdoor exposure, second best is through a window.
- If you can’t do either of these, then get a blue light therapy device.
- DO NOT use any blue-light-emitting electronic devices for at least 1.5-2 hours before you go to bed.
If you must use those LED devices at night, there are work-arounds such as the free program F.lux for computers which cuts out the blue light once evening arrives. There are also other blue light reducing apps for portable devices.
I don’t recommend blue light blocking screen protectors for your LED devices since they also block the blue light during the daytime. If that’s your only source of daytime blue light, it’s better than nothing.
The 6 Top Do’s and Don’ts – Quick-list for Super Sleep, Productivity & Health
- Get out under natural sunshine every day (ideally in the early morning or before noon for re-setting your body clock)
- Work by a window if you can’t get outdoors
- Use a blue light therapy device if you can’t do #1 or #2
- If you work on a computer in the evening, install F.lux to shift the colors emitted by the screen at night & block the blue light
- Don’t use any LED devices like computers, tablets or smartphones for at least 1.5-2 hours before bedtime (or for computers, see #4 above)
- Don’t use a nightlight or if you must, make it amber
By adopting these simple daily practices a few years ago, I not only dramatically improved my sleep and my health, I also immediately boosted my brain power and skyrocketed my productivity.
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About the Author
Leanne Venier, BSME, CP AOBTA, is an international award-winning artist, engineer and expert in the science of color & light who regularly lectures at major medical centers, SXSW Interactive, MENSA & elsewhere. Leanne loves geeking out, reading thousands of medical and scientific research studies. She connects the dots between research that’s happening all over the world and then shares her findings to help others. She has a knack for explaining the research in ways that are easy for everyone to understand. She combines her art, mechanical engineering background and acupuncture and holistic healing training, to teach medical doctors and lay people around the globe about the latest scientific research for Optimizing Health, Creativity and Productivity using Color, Light, Art and Flow State.
Leanne has been interviewed on NBC-TV, nationally syndicated radio and in numerous national and international health magazines. She teaches people how to use Color to easily tap into Flow State (the Zone) in her Live and Interactive Color and Creative Flow Online Training Program. She’s available for Speaking Engagements, Flow Workshops & Training Programs and Business & Productivity Coaching using Flow State. More information on her website: CatalyticColor.com
(The above article by Leanne Venier is also published under “Research” in Texas M.D. Magazine & in TexasMDMonthly.com)