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Summer’s great…until you want to go to bed early or sleep in. Maybe you’re a shift worker who has to get their 7 hours during the day.

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We need darkness to sleep

Melatonin is sometimes called the sleep hormone and our body produces it when it’s dark. It lowers blood pressure, glucose levels and body temperature in order to send us off to sleep. The part of our brain that controls melatonin production responds to light and dark signals through our optic nerves. If they sense light our brain is sent a message that it’s time to wake and start producing cortisol – the stress hormone.

Control unnatural light

Unnatural light sources reduce melatonin production and increase cortisol levels. We can’t control the daylight but we can control unnatural light sources so start by getting rid of your digital clock, or covering it so you still hear it. Aid the transition from waking to sleep by dimming lights before going to bed. Put low watt bulbs in bedside lamps too. The biggest thing you can do is get off digital devices about an hour before bedtime (easier said than done). This includes TV, although it’s not as bad as a tablet or smartphone that emits a high concentration of blue light (especially bad for melatonin production).

Natural remedies

Some people use things like magnesium, calcium, essential oils, valerian root or St John’s Wort to help fall asleep. Currently in NZ, melatonin supplementation is by prescription only, but there are naturally occurring sources. Try tryptophan rich foods like milk and dairy, sweet corn, rice and oats, or best of all – the humble Central Otago cherry. That’s right, research released in 2012 showed these cherries had melatonin levels over 30 times higher than other varieties grown in the Northern Hemisphere.

Block-out lining for curtains or blinds

The more window coverings the better in a light room. Consider having a roller blind and curtains. At Russells, we offer block-out lining, and in our experience it’s pretty effective at reducing natural light and UV rays significantly. It also offers sound insulation and thermal properties. This is far and away your best solution for blocking out light.

Eye mask

Also guaranteed to block out light, a simple eye mask costs only a few dollars in any number of stores. Or you could spend a bit more and go for something funky. There are also eye masks that don’t touch your eyelids, in case that bothers you, and if you don’t like silence when falling asleep, pick an eye mask with built in headphones.

Close the bedroom door

Eliminate light from other rooms. If there’s a gap under the door that still lets some through, roll up a blanket or towel to stuff under there.

Dim the windows

It is possible with tint film. There are professional companies who specialise in the supply and installation of this, or you can buy it yourself from Bunnings. There’s even a DIY video to show you how to put it up.

Last resort

If worst comes to worst, tape something opaque over the windows, like tinfoil or cardboard. They do this in Norway during where there is no night during summer. However, it’s very unattractive and you’ll need to remove it in the morning, so this definitely isn’t the best solution.

And finally…

Once you’ve mastered darkening your room and enjoy sleeping in a cocoon of darkness, make sure when wake you get a big dose of natural light to kick start your day and get the juices flowing. You’ll also find that exposure to sunlight during the day helps you sleep better at night by cementing those circadian rhythms.

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