Have trouble sleeping through the night? Try making your bedroom dark as a cave. That’s the key finding of researchers at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center who determined even a small amount of dim nighttime light can affect patients with sleep apnea, hiking their risk of heart disease, depression, and anxiety.
The findings — published in the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative, and Comparative Physiology
— suggest that the best remedy for the estimated 12 million Americans who have sleep apnea may be simply to sleep in a very dark bedroom.
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"Although it is unclear at the present time whether sleep apnea causes depression, both conditions are commonly seen together in patients. Our research suggests that sleeping even with a minimum amount of light may increase symptoms of depression in those with sleep apnea," said Ulysses Magalan, M.D, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at OSU.
Dr. Magalan’s findings are based on lab tests found that exposure to dim light during sleep dramatically increases depression and anxiety in mice with obstructive sleep apnea, and the same likely holds true for humans.
"We’re talking a minimal amount, even low wattage night lights or alarm clocks can have an impact," said Dr. Magalang.
Apnea is a common problem, especially among smokers and overweight people, and is strongly linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and heart failure. The most common signs include loud snoring, daytime sleepiness, irritability, and memory problems.
Dr. Magalang offered the following tips for improving sleep and reducing dim light exposure at night:
- Use room-darkening drapes or shades on windows to block outside light from traffic, streetlights, and neighboring buildings.
- Turn off the television, computer, or other electronic devices before going to sleep.
- Choose clocks or night lights with red lighting instead of blue or green.
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