What really helps you go to sleep

Don’t use your phone before bed! Turn off overhead lights in the evening! Block blue light as you wind down! There are tons of recommendations out there for helping you get to sleep at night that deal with light and technology, and—spoiler alert—I think they’re right on the money. But missing from the standard advice soundbites is the why: why should you listen, and how are they actually helping you sleep better?

The core idea that these suggestions are getting at is avoiding disruption of your body’s circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are patterns in our bodies that repeat about once a day. Avoiding disruptions to these rhythms can be the key to making your sleep smooth sailing.

Here’s why: Imagine you’re on a bike going down a very slight decline. You don’t have to pedal for the wheels to spin, but if you do get into a good pedaling groove, your balance and stability on the bike can improve a lot.

In this analogy, the spinning wheels are your circadian rhythms—driving your sleep cycle, metabolism, immune response, DNA repair, physical performance, and more. And if the spinning wheels are the rhythms, then your pedal strokes are your light exposure. Just like how when you’re biking, you want to push down with a foot on one part of the stroke and let it drift back up on the return, you want to give your body’s clock a clear period of bright, alerting light, followed by another period of truly dark darkness.

For most people, light at night is almost like trying to abruptly pedal backwards on a bike. Not only does that slow down your rhythms, it can also throw off your sense of balance, and make it so you don’t have as much momentum going into sleep.

The reason why a technology detox can be helpful before bed is because it reduces the amount of light you’re directly shining into your eyes. One hundred years ago, this wasn’t a problem: humans didn’t have to worry about the effects of shining lights directly into our eyes at night, because there wasn’t much light at night to be had. Nowadays, it’s a different story—and light at night is a common occurrence that deeply impacts our ability to sleep well.

So what really helps you go to sleep? Well, if you’re someone with clinical insomnia, seek out cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or CBT-i. But if you’re not an insomnia patient, and just looking to sleep better: Prepare your circadian rhythms by getting the right light at the right time. Soak up the sun during the day, and avoid it meticulously at night. Or, if you’re a shift worker who can’t follow a typical day schedule, use our apps to help you figure out what these times are.

Ask your employer to pilot the Shift app, and finally be one step closer to getting sleep when you need it most. Use the link below to set up a 30-minute discovery call.