Although circadian rhythms are being recognized more and more for their relevance to jet lag, shift work, the grogginess people feel after daylight saving time transitions, and health and medicine at large, it’s still a long way behind sleep in entering popular discourse. People know “8 hours a night,” but they don’t know “align your circadian rhythms” nearly as well. This can make it so that, if you’re trying to buy gear to help boost your circadian health, you might not even know where to start.
In this blog post, I’ll show you how I do it, highlighting lightboxes recommended by Yale School of Medicine, blue light blocking glasses featured in the Harvard Business Review, and melatonin supplements that are third-party tested or USP-verified— as well as some things I just think are nice.
Five years ago, my first Chicago winter left me lethargic and unmotivated, a huge departure from my energized smiles and daily workouts. Research of my symptoms suggested that I suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I purchased a cheap light box marketed to treat SAD but experienced no improvement. According to the Yale School of Medicine, for a lightbox to be effective, “the device must produce at least 7,500 lux at a reasonable distance (≥ 11 inches)… melanopsin is the pigment in the retina which transduces much of the effect of light on the body’s clock. Blue light is absorbed by melanopsin, but blue light is also most toxic to the retina. Green light affects melanopsin strongly and should be safer for the eye.”
The following two lightboxes are recommended by Yale School of Medicine. On dark or rainy days, I sit in front of the Carex Day-light Classic Plus for 20 minutes around 10am, and I feel energized throughout the day. For those seeking a portable light box, Nature Bright Sun Touch Plus might be your solution.
BLUE LIGHT BLOCKING GLASSES
Good circadian hygiene includes managing light exposure. Arcascope’s Shift app calculates and personalizes ideal light exposure and avoidance for each user. However, sometimes you may need to function in well-lit environments when bright lights are not ideal. As a part-time student, I complete coursework three evenings weekly on my bright computer screen. On these nights, it is important that I avoid bright light so as not to delay my circadian clock.
Enter, blue light blockers. These special glasses are designed to block the majority of visible blue light from entering my eyes. Note that blue light blockers are not created equal; some blue light blockers do not provide adequate protection. To be effective, glasses must actually block blue light. I read about Swanwick’s blue light blocking glasses in the Harvard Business Review and use them nighy. For those seeking a cheaper but still very effective option, you can check out the Uvex glasses we use in research studies. Lastly, sunglasses are better than nothing – I shamelessly wear sunglasses to block fluorescent lights when grocery shopping in the evening or checking in for a flight in the early morning.
Melatonin is the hormone produced naturally in the body to signal night. Melatonin production is suppressed by the presence of light, which is the reason for those light blocking glasses recommended above. But melatonin also can shift your body’s clock, essentially opposite to the way light shifts your clock, which can make it useful to jet lagged travelers and shift workers trying to adapt their internal time.
It’s important to note in the U.S. that melatonin supplements are not regulated by the FDA. One study found that “Melatonin content did not meet label within a 10% margin of the label claim in more than 71% of supplements and an additional 26% were found to contain serotonin.” For this reason, we recommend third-party tested Pure Encapsulation 3mg melatonin supplement. For doses ranging from 1mg to 10mg, we recommend USP-tested Natrol Melatonin. I supplement Natrol 1mg melatonin regularly, and on nights when sleep is difficult, I reach for Natrol’s 3mg melatonin. Before ingesting melatonin, please read this article about common mistakes around melatonin supplementation and consult your physician.
AMBER NIGHT LIGHTS
Ok, now for things I love: I’d like to plug you into a little secret. This small plug-in light shines amber (not blue) light rays. I program the lights in my home to dim around 6:30pm, at which time these amber lights automatically switch on. I plugged two in my hallway and one in my bathroom. This helps me navigate through my home without disrupting my circadian rhythm. And if you have not experienced showering by “candlelight,” it is amazingly therapeutic, luxurious, and outright romantic.
When the world was shut down in 2020, how much sleep did you get? I averaged more sleep per night compared to all my previous years. One item that drastically improved my sleep was an eye mask. Capable of blocking nearly all light, wearing an eye mask helped me fall asleep quicker and stayed asleep longer. I tried dozens of eye masks and each one fell short; some materials were scratchy, others did not allow my eyes to flutter during rem, some bands were not adjustable, others did not block enough light. Then, I found the perfect eye mask. I have been using it for over 2 years and gifted it to many friends who also rave about it.
That’s my list! Got recommendations for things you use in your own life to help manage your circadian rhythms? Find us on social media to let us know what you use: