Oh, how wrong I was.
I should have had faith in Apollo and his chariot, leading the sunrise and sunset each day. Our bodies are made to respond to the natural rhythm of the day; sunrise instigates wakefulness and the sunset encourages sleep. My husband and I sleep with no electronics in our bedroom: no phones, no alarm clocks, no tv, no iPad. The only thing we have plugged in at all is our bedside lamp. We permit ourselves to use our bedroom for the two sole purposes of sleep and (as I am currently speaking in my most grandmotherly voice) “adult relations.” We turn off the main sources of light in the house as we get ready for bed and we have a fairly strict routine for bedtime, a la Alden.
Still, we don’t always get restful sleep.
My husband often wakes up several times in the night and he hardly feels rested in the morning when his wristwatch alarm goes off. I wake up a few times each night, and while I feel rested, I always feel like I could go back to sleep at any moment if I had the chance to lie back down. My husband often poses the question: how do we still feel so tired if we do everything we can to keep a healthy circadian rhythm?
Personally, I think our good sleep in New Zealand was all nature’s fault. As I mentioned earlier, sleep is induced by the setting of the sun. In a study by Colorado University – Boulder, researchers noted how the human body is highly influenced by the use of indoor lighting. Our innate periods of wakefulness and sleepiness are disrespected as the lightbulbs in our home act as little sources of sunshine and keep us awake much longer into the night than we would naturally be. There is hope for us, however, as the same study found that spending only a week in nature with the sun and campfire as the only sources of light will completely reset your biological clock! My husband and I had the privilege of spending 3 weeks in nature, which helped us once again have truly restful sleep.
Not only were we at the mercy of Earth’s star, but we had plentiful fresh air and no real agenda. We were footloose and fancy-free on the gorgeous mountain roads of New Zealand without a care in the world. The fresh air was both stimulating and invigorating. The views of the New Zealand landscape were spectacular: whimsical views of islands floating just off the coast, sunsets over the bay, clouds flowing peacefully down the mountain peaks... I’m feeling more peaceful just reminiscing!
And, of course, there’s the issue of electronics. We had our phones with us for photos, but no guaranteed Wifi connections and no 4G network available to us in the land of The Shire. When I inevitably grew bored, I had no phone to plant my nose into Facebook. Instead, my husband and I read “The Martian” by Andy Weir together and completed a Big Book of Logic Puzzles. The physical and mental disconnect from “the network” gave us a sense of freedom that we had no idea we were lacking in our lives. I know my husband can rest his weary head once he truly knows he has no work emails to Répondez s'il vous plaît.
I have been reading several studies about sleep disorders from UCLA, The National Institute of Health, and the aforementioned study from CU-Boulder. The studies agree that artificial light plays a role in human health by distorting our biological clocks and disrupting our natural periods of wakefulness and sleepiness. Even when achieving an adequate amount of sleep (8 or more hours per night), the lack of response during the biological phase of sleepiness can play a major role in our moods. Depression, irritability, and confusion can all be attributed to a lack of quality sleep.
What do we do about it? It's simple!
Make it a point to get outside more, whether that means once a week or twice per day. Interact with Mother Nature – bask in the sunshine, smell the fresh air, allow your eyes to drink in the majestic beauty of a beautiful landscape. Go camping or rent a cabin in the woods for a week if you can. It might just be the break from life that you need to feel better and achieve restful sleep.