You and I learned it in grade school…
Plants manufacture energy from light through a process called photosynthesis. The green color of plants is intentional by nature in order to absorb light through the green spectrum for photosynthesis to occur.
Interestingly, when humans ingest green vegetables, we absorb the benefits of photosynthesis via the plant’s chlorophyll.
Chlorophyll is like the hemoglobin of the plant and, in fact, chlorophyll is nearly identical in molecular structure to human hemoglobin with the primary difference being magnesium at the center instead of iron.
Now, aside from consuming vegetable greens the human body can actually manufacture energy from light in a very similar process as plants.
One pathway takes place in the eyes. Behind the rods and cones is a photopigment known as melanopsin which absorbs light and transfers it down the retinohypothalamic tract to a non-visual area of the brain. This area of the brain is known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus which is responsible for producing various hormones such as those related to our Circadian Rhythms (i.e. sleep/wake cycle).
When different wavelengths of light enter this pathway they have different effects on the SCN and which hormones are produced.
For example, when red light enters this pathway it can be very inhibitory and relaxing to the nervous system. Red light can help reset the brain’s production of melatonin. This can be extremely useful for those with migraines, stress, and sleep issues. Red bulbs or red color glasses are must for these individuals to use as part of their daily routine to recover from their modern lifestyle.
There are 3 primary wavelengths of light which are bioactive in humans and radically affect our physiology in different ways. These are UV light, blue light, and red/near-infrared light. Most of what you’ve already heard about the effect of light on humans likely has to do with UV or blue light. However, we almost never hear about the profound health benefits of red or near-infrared light.
I’m not over exaggerating when I say red and near-infrared light is profoundly powerful to human health. The health benefits range from anti-aging, pain relief, reducing inflammation, beating anxiety or depression, improving strength and movement quality, improving sleep, reducing fatigue, improving skin, reducing cellulite, to speeding up metabolism.
This may sound crazy and for those of you who know me you know I don’t believe in any “panaceas” to health, but the evidence and research to support these amazing health benefits are pretty astounding.
Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D Rich Sunlight?
The human body is highly responsive to the light of the sun the UV rays stimulate the production of Vitamin D. Although technically, Vitamin D is not a vitamin at all but a hormone, it has been found essential to the smooth running of many of the body’s vital functions.
Besides being the regulator for over 2,000 different gene types, Vitamin D also determines which genes are to be turned on and which shut off –and the most significant source of Vitamin D for the human being is sunlight. So, maybe sunlight isn’t as bad as many health practitioners would have us believe –after all the vitamin D intake we glean from foodstuffs is just not as pure and bountiful as sunlight.
Of course, getting too much direct sunlight can actually damage the skin –in some cases beyond repair– and the amount of sunlight should be limited to what is healthy and for amounts of time which are safe and will not incur a burn.
Insufficient Vitamin D intake can cause a large number of health conditions that range from heart disease to severe depression as well as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and many more… But the worst news is that Vitamin D deficiency has reached epidemic proportions in the US since the fear of the too much sun drove the population indoors.
While it is important to protect the skin from overexposure to the sun this must be balanced with the need the human body has to absorb sufficient sunlight to regulate genes and body functions properly. By getting a proper amount of Vitamin D you can effectively avoid such health problems like the common cold and flu which always seem to hit the homebodies first and the outdoor types later.
The best way to get the amount of sun you need to survive and thrive is to soak up the sun. For the best results choose a time when the sun is still high in the sky and strip down to what would be modest for your situation and spend about half as much time as it would take to burn, sunbathing. For sensitive skins be sure to time and hydrate yourself.
(Note: a healthy tan is a perfectly normal reaction to spending time in the sun – as a matter of fact it is the body’s way of protecting itself from skin damage.)
Understanding The Circadian Rhythm
Blue light is a wavelength that presents bioactive features in the human cells. It’s completely different with UV light so there is no added benefit of Vitamin D. Through the SCN of the hypothalamus (the tract that runs from the eyes to the midbrain), blue light regulates circadian rhythm. Basically, it’s used to regulate the hormones associated with sleep cycles.
The circadian rhythm can best be explained as how humans (just like other animals) evolved and adjusted accordingly to the sun’s rising and setting. Of course, this was all going well before a few things came up. For instance, as people become more modernized, there is a tendency to spend time indoors rather than outdoors during the day.
Also, with the invention of electricity (artificial light), people gained light exposure (usually blue spectrum) long after the sun goes down. Basically, with these 2 factors, people have become completely blind to the setting or rising of the sun. Eventually, the circadian rhythm has become disrupted causing a variety of health issues, especially due to lack of sleep.
Today, you’re likely to find so many people suffering from insomnia and low energy levels during the day. That’s because of the disrupted circadian rhythm. In the book, Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar and Survival, by Wiley and Formbly, you can read this disruption has contributed immensely to modern day inherited diseases. These include cancer, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and hypothyroidism among many others. Of course, lifestyle and dieting habits also contribute to these diseases as well besides the circadian rhythm.
Also, there is research which shows that if the rhythm is disrupted, an individual will most likely suffer from a few psychological illnesses and issues such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder and much more.
So how can you correct this issue? Of course, it would be best to abandon your electronics, especially at night, but I understand that may be unreasonable. Therefore, the only way out of this is changing your lifestyle.
For instance, if you’re accustomed to staying indoors more than going outdoors during the day, you should start doing that. Also, I’m a big fan of hacking my night time routine with red color therapy glasses. Basically, two hours before bed I put on my red glasses while I watch TV or finish any work on the computer. This helps tremendously with resetting the body’s clock so falling and staying asleep is easier.
With time, any disruptions in your circadian rhythm will be immediately corrected. Eventually, your sleep cycle goes back to normal and you can enjoy better sleep. Even better, you can guarantee better psychological and emotional health with these hacks.
How to Fix Your Bedtime Routine and Circadian Rhythms With Light Therapy
Using red color therapy glasses or ‘blue blocking shades’ is one way you can fix your circadian rhythms and that you can get a better night’s sleep as a result. However, it is only one such method and there are many other things you can (and should) do besides.
For one, it is pertinent to avoid subsequently subjecting yourself to blue light. This is a mistake that lots of us will make when we get up to go to the toilet and switch on the light in the bathroom. Remember, your body hasn’t evolved to understand this cue and as far as it’s concerned, it just suddenly became morning! This can result in a flood of cortisol that takes hours to subside.
Likewise, any small blue lights in your room can also cause problems. If you have an alarm clock with an LED display for instance, then this can actually prevent you from sleeping properly. Likewise, blinking lights on TVs, WiFi routers, DVD players etc. can all have the same effect. Get a little black tape and use it to cover them up. Heavy curtains will also make a big difference by blocking out street lights, lights from the traffic etc.
Another tip is to try and take ten minutes at the end of the day just to unwind and read a book while wearing your red color therapy glasses. This will help you to relax and will ensure that you’re getting at least a few minutes without being exposed accidentally to blue lights.
What’s key to understand here, is that just as red light can encourage the secretion of melatonin, blue light (the light that comes from electronics and some types of lamp) can increase cortisol. Cortisol is the stress hormone and it encourages the fight or flight response in the human body.
That sounds like a bad thing right? Well it is when you’re trying to get to sleep and it can completely ruin the quality and quantity of your shuteye. At other times though, cortisol is a good thing. ‘Eustress’ is a positive kind of stress which motivates us, helps us to function and encourages us to be productive. It’s also what encourages us to get out of bed in the morning when we might otherwise lie in and continue feeling groggy.
In this instance, blue light from the sun is an ‘external zietgeber’ (jargon for ‘external time-giver’ – a reference point for our body). This tells us that it’s time to get up. And because the body works in rhythms, the time our body starts waking up is directly related to the time we start shutting down and feeling tired.
So in other words, while you want to avoid blue light in the evening, you want to ensure that you are getting it in the morning. And one of the best ways you can do this is with a ‘daylight alarm’ from the likes of Lumie. Daylight alarms are lamps that also act as alarm clocks. These create a special blue light that is more similar to the wavelength of sunlight and they start getting brighter slowly in the morning to rouse you out of sleep and to help begin the production of cortisol to wake you up.
At the same time, this also appears to trigger the release of more nitric oxide, which spreads through the brain in the mornings and helps it to ‘boot up’. This simulated sunrise creates a situation that’s far closer to the way we would wake up in our natural environments.
Like red therapy glasses, daylight alarms are an investment that I highly recommend and that every biohacker should have in their tool kit.
Not only do daylight alarms help to set your circadian rhythms to combat morning grogginess (called ‘sleep inertia’), they also ensure that you’re tired at the right time in the evening. What’s more, they help you to wake more naturally and gradually rather than being startled awake by an alarm out of your deepest stages of sleep. I can’t over-exaggerate what a difference this makes. Instead of feeling shocked and sick, you feel as though you’ve been sleeping for hours longer and are waking up because your body is telling you it’s time. It’s much less jarring and you feel much better.
And even if the light alone isn’t enough to wake you and you still need alarm, simply being able to wake up in a room that’s bright and you can see in makes a huge difference to your mood and productivity. In fact, these lamps are actually recommended as a form of treatment for those who suffer from ‘SAD’ (Seasonal Affective Disorder). If you find yourself feeling depressed or lethargic during the winter months, then this might just be the best purchase you ever make!
Lumie lamps and other similar products also have another neat feature which is a ‘sun set’ feature. This gets gradually dimmer and slowly edges you to sleep as the spectrum of the light changes.
This incredible and virtually unknown technology is a great way to improve your health and quality of life. Give it a try and let me know how it worked for you. And like I mentioned before, don’t forget to establish a baseline by measuring your weight and/or body fat percentage, and re-checking it after utilizing red light therapy every day for a few weeks.
In the next article, I’m going to share my favorite diet biohacks to help you lean up without any feelings of deprivation or “dieting.”