There are many risk factors that have been identified for breast cancer, but one you may not be aware of is the level of light that surrounds you when you sleep. According to a 2007 study (PDF) conducted by researchers at the Institute For Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University, women with the brightest bedrooms had an increased risk of breast cancer.
The researchers explained this phenomenon as a by product of the way the hormone melatonin is produced in the body. Its created by the pineal gland located in the center of the brain, and it forms part of the system that controls the circadian cycle, or the cycle of sleeping/waking. Production of the hormone is inhibited by light, which is why it is often referred to as “The hormone of darkness.” Its level in the blood peaks in the middle of the night, and gradually falls off as the night progresses. If melatonin levels in the blood aren’t at their correct night time levels, the body kicks into overdrive, and produces a lot of estrogen, a known stimulator of the growth of breast cancer cells.
The researchers’ findings also included the level of light necessary to interfere with melatonin production. They noted that since the1960s, artificial lighting, like that used in your home, has changed from incandescent lighting, or low-level yellow wavelengths, to a high-density discharge form that is mainly blue wavelengths.
The cells in the retina that are responsible for detecting light and suppressing melatonin production are most sensitive to blue light. In addition, direct exposure to street lighting or to the residual effects of the scattering of street light against the natural sky can also slow down melatonin production.
Given these findings, the interior design of your bedroom takes on a whole new meaning. When you’re deciding on different elements to incorporate into your room plan, it’s important to consider those that are not only esthetically pleasing, but also provide you with the necessary protections from breast cancer.
Adrienne Van Dooren, interior designer, and author of The House That Faux BuiltandTransform Your Home With Paint, Plaster, and Creativity, is currently with MyGreenCottage.com, a company that builds affordable, eco-friendly homes. She offers the following decorating tips to keep your bedroom a healthy environment:
- Shut out exterior light with blackout curtains.
- Use a red bulb in your lighting fixture, it’s less harsh on the eyes. Only turn it on when you get up at night.
- Use a night light; turning on a light or lamp can cause melatonin levels to drop immediately.
Since the idea is to make your bedroom as conducive to falling and staying asleep as possible, you need to be careful about the colors you choose for your walls. In general, earth tones will keep the room restful, especially browns. Orange is a color that makes people happy, but it is also associated with food, and prolonged exposure could lead to binge eating. Yellow only has a short-term positive effect on people; extended exposure to this color causes irritation. The best colors for your bedroom are blues and greens because they are associated with nature and tranquility.
In addition to creating an environment that encourages sleep, you need to maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Try to go to bed at the same time every night. If you have trouble staying asleep, resist the temptation to turn on the light and read. Instead, try engaging in deep breathing and meditation while remaining in bed. These non-stimulating activities will send a signal to your brain that its time for sleep.