Color Your Way to a Better Night’s Sleep: A Q&A with Behavioral Sleep Expert, Dr. Michael Grandner

December 4, 2014

Sleep is the human body's most baffling daily activity. Add colors to the mix, and you have even more of an enigma. The Leeo team is so enthralled with colors because our smoke and carbon monoxide monitoring device, the Smart Alert Nightlight, lets users light up their rooms with a palette of 16 million colors. With so many colors constantly bathing our homes, we wanted to know: What impact do these millions of colors actually have on us?


To answer this question, we sat down with one of the world's preeminent sleep experts, Dr. Michael Grandner, to better understand the mystifying connection between colors and sleep. Grandner is a board-certified behavioral sleep specialist who is currently a researcher in the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Psychiatry. In addition to being honored by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine, and Sleep Research Society, Grandner is also the author of over 50 academic papers on the science of sleep. He has been featured on The Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America, Oprah, The New York Times, and countless other outlets. In our chat with Dr. Grandner, he discusses the fascinating relationship between these two topics, and provides suggestions for ways we can harness specific colors to achieve a sounder night's sleep.  


Q. Sleep is an interesting but often misunderstood topic. What first sparked your interest in studying sleep behavior? 


A. My interest in sleep goes all the way back to childhood, when I was fascinated by dreams and what they could mean. In college, I was able to take an undergraduate course on sleep and dreaming and I absolutely loved it. I then volunteered at the sleep research lab on campus and the rest is history. I really enjoyed learning about sleep and how sleep exists at this unique nexus between the external world and our health and functioning. I became particularly interested in "real world" sleep and what we can do to make the most of it in order to maximize our health and well-being. Through this work, I focused on sleep's role in the context of real-world problems like health disparities, work performance, chronic disease, and longevity.


Q. Sleep does indeed touch on many different areas. Because of our Smart Alert Nightlight's Color Picker feature, one area we're really interested in is the relationship between sleep and colors. So tell me, do colors really impact sleep?


A. Colors definitely do impact sleep, but not in the way most people think.


Q. How so? What is actually happening in our brains?


A. There is a central clock in your brain that works to keep many of the rhythms of your body working together. Your brain has its own internal rhythm but it uses light from the environment to keep the clock properly timed. It expects bright light during the day and very little light at night. In particular, the region of your brain that controls the clock is extremely sensitive to blue and green light. This is the color of light that signals "daytime" to your brain (note that white light also counts since it includes all colors, including blue and green). That's why blue and/or green light in the evening, and especially at night, can disrupt your natural rhythms and make sleep more difficult, since it's more of a "daytime" signal. 


Q. I guess no looking at your phone at night! If white, blue, and green are detrimental for sleep, what are the best colors for morning and night to help with sleep?


A. In the morning, it is best to get bright light, specifically in the blue and green spectrum, to help reset your clock and get your day started. For this same reason, red and amber colors are best for nighttime. That way, you can still see without sending a "daytime" signal to your brain.


Q. How can someone use a nightlight to help with sleep?


 A. I would recommend that people use a nightlight in the red or amber spectrum at night, since it does not contain the green and blue frequencies that could potentially disturb sleep.


Q. If someone painted their bedroom walls red, would that also help foster sleep at night in the same way that colored light does?


A. Painting the room red could limit blue light to the eyes a little, but it would probably be uncomfortable on the eyes. Nice, light colors are fine for your walls, but it doesn't have much of an impact on sleep. At night, when this matters, the lights should be off and you probably can't tell what colors the walls are anyway.


Q. Besides understanding the impact of colors, what are some other ways people can optimize their sleep?


A. Keeping a regular schedule is the best way to optimize your sleep. If you are having trouble with sleep, remove obvious barriers like caffeine in the afternoon, nicotine and alcohol at night, heavy/spicy meals near bedtime, etc. You should also make sure you give yourself enough time to wind down. If you find yourself having trouble falling asleep or getting back to sleep when you wake up at night, then get out of bed — don't stay in bed awake if you can help it. Also, if this stuff doesn't work, you may actually have a sleep disorder and you may need the assistance of a sleep specialist (they exist!). 


Thank you to Dr. Grandner for sharing his time and expertise with the Leeo community. Have any questions about light, sleep, or anything else under the rainbow? Drop us a note in the comments!


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