Lightbulb Moment

August 19, 2013 at 12:00 am

A week or two ago I had a little epiphany. Ever since, I’ve had that song stuck in my head… “I wear my sunglasses at night…” I’m a child of the 80’s. Actually, that’s the only line of the song I really know, so I’ve just had that one line repeating over and over in my head. Ha. What is that song even about?

Seriously though, if we’re going to wear sunglasses, we really should be wearing them at night (unless we’re driving, of course). And because of all of this pondering about light and sunglasses, I’m becoming convinced that every woman transferring in labor to a hospital should wear amber (blue-light blocking) eyeglasses. At least until she gets situated and comfortable and labor is continuing to progress.

Let me explain…

It might help if you read these posts first:

The key points to remember from those posts:

  • Melatonin is the hormone responsible for inducing sleep. Our bodies increase production of melatonin in darkness, and most humans’ melatonin levels peak in the wee hours of the morning. Daylight and artificial light reduce melatonin production.
  • The pineal gland, located inside the brain, is responsible for regulating hormone levels (including the sleep hormone melatonin) in relation to our exposure to sunlight.
  • Part of getting your body into a healthy sleep and hormonal rhythm includes utilizing the normal rise and fall of light exposure. Sunlight exposure during the day followed by minimal light in the evening should improve the quality of your sleep and help regulate your hormone levels.
  • Melatonin and oxytocin synergize to produce labor contractions. So wouldn’t it make sense to do everything possible to keep melatonin levels high during childbirth?

If you think about it, we are all messing with the natural cycles of light exposure our bodies expect. We spend most of our days indoors away from daylight, and when we do go outdoors, we block that light from our eyes with sunglasses. Then, when our bodies expect darkness, we flip the lights on and sit in front of various screens blazing blue light (from my research, I’ve learned that blue light is the particular wavelength of light that suppresses melatonin production) into our eyes. It’s all backwards and upside down. No wonder so many people suffer from insomnia. No wonder our hormone levels are out of whack. No wonder I’ve felt various shades of crazy for the past several years! I never used to wear sunglasses, but I’ve worn them for the past several years nearly always when outdoors during the day. Ooops.

Interestingly, I’ve had horrible luck with sunglasses. My last several pairs have been broken by my toddler. Instead of getting frustrated, I suppose I should have been thanking her. It’s like she was picking up some vibe from the universe saying, “Mom, you need that sunlight! Stop it with the sunglasses!” Ha. Figures.

So I don’t know about you, but I think I’m ditching my daytime sunglasses for most circumstances. And I just ordered my family some blue-light blocking sunglasses for night-time. (Note: I’m not making any money from this post.) Supposedly these cheap amber safety glasses do the trick.

If nothing else, we’ll be working on trying to recreate normal light-dark cycles for our family as much as possible with low-lighting and low-technology exposure in the evenings.

More on the benefits of blocking blue light at night:

Postpartum depression prevention… “When a new mother gets up during the night to care for her baby she can put on the glasses before turning on an ordinary light bulb. . . . If the mother is breast feeding her baby both she and her baby can benefit from using the glasses a few hours before her normal bedtime. This will maximize her melatonin. Her melatonin will appear in her breast milk and help the baby sleep well. By avoiding melatonin suppression and the resulting loss of sleep and disruption of her circadian rhythm she can reduce the risk of postpartum depression” (Source).

Cancer prevention… “Because of the oncostatic [cancer-fighting] properties of melatonin, its nocturnal suppression by light-at-night (LAN) has been considered a risk-factor for breast cancer. . . . Epidemiologic studies have also described increased breast cancer risk in women exposed to [light-at-night]. Since the strongest suppression of nocturnal melatonin occurs with wavelength light of the blue spectral region, optical and lightening devices filtering the blue light spectrum have been proposed to avoid the risks of light-induced suppression of nocturnal melatonin” (Source).

ADHD insomnia prevention… “Despite only partial compliance with intervention instructions, subjects completing the study showed subjectively reduced anxiety and improved sleep quality on multiple measures. The more sleep-delayed subjects trended toward an earlier sleep period following use of the glasses. Blue-blocking glasses are a potential insomnia treatment for more compliant subjects with ADHD insomnia, especially those with prominent sleep delay. Larger studies of blue light-blocking glasses in more phase-delayed groups could reveal significant advances in chronotherapeutics” (Source).

Childbirth progression…  “If melatonin and oxytocin synergize to produce labor contractions, wouldn’t it make sense to do everything possible to keep melatonin levels high during childbirth? . . . Turn off the lights! Get to a comfortable place. Do whatever you can to relax and get into a sleep-like meditative state. Let your body do what it already knows how to do. If/When it’s time to leave your dark/comfortable nest, take along some [blue-light blocking] sunglasses and someone who can protect your birthing space from unnecessary distractions and interruptions.  Keep those melatonin levels high!” (Melatonin’s role in labor progress)

Cool stuff.

P.S. A friend said, “Knowing myself in labor, I’d probably toss the glasses across the room, amber or not.” My response… I bet once you were in hard-core labor, you wouldn’t really need the glasses.  I think they’d probably be best for transferring to the hospital, answering questions from nurses, getting situated in a labor room, etc. I usually keep my eyes closed once labor really gets going, so glasses would be redundant at that point. :-)