There are lots of elements to circadian health, but light is the big one. Experts predict that, soon, more and more homes will feature dedicated circadian lighting: bulbs and gadgets that reduce the harsh, blue light we get from screens (which tricks our brains into thinking it’s daytime) and replace it with “tuneable, biodynamic lighting solutions that sync with the time of day.”
And if you think that sounds farfetched, the circadian lighting market is already booming. It’s expected to reach $4 billion by 2024.
We’re already seeing this with some devices: smartphone manufacturers have introduced ‘Night Mode’ to help grease the circadian wheels, and new ‘smart lights’ are timed to change hue after dark.
Unfortunately, some studies suggest these might actually be making sleep worse, not better. And this is where circadian health gets a little complex. Your biological clock actually anticipates environmental time – it doesn’t reflect it. So ‘tricking’ your brain with different coloured lights, while maintaining an irregular, disrupted sleep schedule might not necessarily be the answer.
Some circadian health experts, like Dr Lockley, argue that what’s really important isn’t fancy lighting techniques, but mirroring natural rhythms as much as possible: that means bright blue days and dark, dark nights.
Circadian Health is an emerging field, and there’s still a lot we don’t understand (scientists can’t agree on why we sleep, let alone the complex neurophysiology involved). But now that researchers are beginning to figure out circadian rhythms, there’s a lot of potential.
In the distant, well-rested future, circadian drugs could be used to tackle some of the world’s biggest diseases, including obesity, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Until then, we’ll have to sleep on it.