By: Dr. Shoshana Bennett and Dr. Richard L. Hansler
Staying healthy and happy throughout this exciting process of having a baby is a goal of every mother. Some recent discoveries about how light affects the human body are of special relevance to this topic.
It has been known for many years that exposing the eyes to light at night suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin. What is new is that it is principally the blue rays in ordinary white light that cause the suppression.
When a mother gets up at night and turns on a light in order to take care of her baby, she suppresses her production of melatonin. When she goes back to bed she may find she can’t sleep. About the time she finally falls asleep again, her baby cries and she again turns on a light. Once more, this cuts off her supply of melatonin. This results in upsetting her internal clock.
When she goes to bed the following evening she may find she can’t sleep, even though very tired. Her melatonin flow did not start at the normal time because her internal clock has been reset by the light exposure during the previous night. If this goes on for a number of nights, her body doesn’t know what time of day or night it is. She produces less and less melatonin, she sleeps very little and may fall into a state of depression. Disruption of the internal clock is well known to psychiatrists as a cause for depression.
Because it is now known that only the blue rays in ordinary light cause the melatonin suppression, it is easy to avoid the problem. All that is required is to use lightbulbs in the nursery and bathroom that don’t produce blue light.
Alternatively, the new mother may simply slip on a pair of glasses that block blue light and she can then go anywhere in the house without fear of losing her supply of melatonin. Because a father also can develop postpartum depression, he needs to take the same precautions.
Many pregnant women find they are getting up during the night. For them, using blue blocking glasses and/or light bulbs makes sense for the same reasons. In fact, experience has shown that putting on glasses that block blue light well in advance of bedtime has a number of benefits. It allows melatonin to start flowing earlier than usual which makes it easier to fall and stay asleep. It makes it possible to maximize the duration of melatonin flow to the 10 or so hours we enjoyed before the invention of electric lights. By making these simple changes in their environment, the pregnant couple can plan for the arrival of their baby with confidence.
Glasses that block blue light and light bulbs that don't produce blue light are available at www.lowbluelights.com.
Dr. Shoshana is a psychologist who treats women with prenatal and postpartum depression. She has conducted clinical trials of the glasses and light bulbs while treating them. She is the author of a number of books on postpartum depression including, "Postpartum Depression for Dummies." Her most recent book, "Pregnant on Prozac," is being pre-sold now on Amazon. Dr. Shoshana can be contacted through http://ClearSky-Inc.com.
Dr. Hansler is a physicist with a lifetime career conducting research on lighting. Since his retirement from General Electric he founded the Lighting Innovations Institute at John Carroll University. For the past number of years he has turned his attention to the effect of light on health. His recent book is "Great Sleep! Reduced Cancer!"