How to Use Light to Improve Your Health and Productivity
The post below was originally published on Lighting Science Group’s “The Lab Blog” on October 31, 2016.
You look down at your to-do list for the evening, then back at the computer monitor. Your Excel model is still #REF’ing out and it’s already 1:30 am. You yawn and grab another coffee. The next morning you have trouble getting out of bed. Despite sleeping an extra 30 minutes, you’re still tired and go through the day in a haze. You aren’t quite as productive as you were the day before, so you have to stay late and the cycle repeats. Sound familiar?
Optimizing Your Health and Productivity Routine
Whether you’re a college student or a financial professional like me, the key to being productive day-after-day is finding the right routine. Believe it or not, optimizing the timing of a few key inputs, such as when you drink coffee and when you expose yourself to the right light spectrum, can make a big difference between feeling ‘in sync’–or living a life of perpetual grogginess.
Because optimization needs to be dynamically updated as work demands change, I created a simple productivity improvement tracking mechanism. I open up an Excel, drop in the date, and before going home, rate how productive the day was relative to average levels of productivity over the past month (5=average, 10=best ever, 0=worst ever). This allows me to subjectively quantify my productivity and (hopefully) track continual improvement. For more scientific results, this method can easily be paired with a device like the S+ by ResMed, that tracks sleep length and quality, or one of the many wearables out there that track physical activity.
Kicking The Coffee Habit
In fact, having a quantitative understanding of my productivity and health, helped me kick my coffee addiction thanks to some caffeine-light arbitrage. Coffee and energy drinks take about 30 minutes to hit the system, with stimulating effects that last about 3 hours. It usually takes about another 3 to 5 hours, however, for the caffeine to work its way out of the body. As a result, it’s difficult to fall asleep for about 6-8 hours after drinking a cup of coffee.
That’s great if you’re enjoying a cup of java first thing in the morning. But caffeine can set you up for real problems if you need a boost in the evening–and still need to get a good night’s sleep. Fortunately, there is a better way. Light–specifically blue light spectrum–can be as just energizing as coffee, without the long-term stimulating effects.
Blue Light Spectrum: The Quicker Picker Upper
As our bodies evolved, human beings were regularly exposed to 24-hour cycles of light and dark. As a result, light–and its absence–serve as significant bio cues for our bodies, controlling the release of at least ten different hormones. Exposure to blue light spectrum, for instance, mimics sunlight and stimulates the release of serotonin, boosting cognitive ability, focus, and energy. These alertness-boosting effects take effect almost immediately and last for about 30 minutes after exposure, with a half-life of an additional two hours.
So when I need to work late, instead of swinging by a Starbucks, I simply turn on a light that has been scientifically engineered to boost energy, such as the Awake&Alert™ by Lighting Science. Because the stimulating effects of blue light don’t last as long as caffeine, I can use it up until 2.5 hours before bedtime–and still get a great night’s rest.
An Optimized Day
If I need to stay up until 3 a.m. to finish a project, for instance, I have my last cup of coffee no later than 7 p.m. and use my Awake&Alert until 12:30 a.m. so that my focus never lags. After 12:30 a.m., I switch to a light which has most of the blue light spectrum filtered out, like the GoodNight™ light. The GoodNight light provides more than enough light for me to finish what I’m working on, while also supporting my body’s production of melatonin and ensuring that I get a good night’s sleep.
The following morning, I energize my day with Awake&Alert, switching to standard lighting by noon. If a mid to late afternoon energy slump occurs, I switch to Awake& Alert again for a quick boost. In the evening, depending upon what I need to get done, I may use the Awake&Alert again. But I make sure to reduce my exposure to blue light spectrum for 2.5 hours before bed–and I sleep in total darkness. Vicious cycle broken.
Tracking and optimizing your own timing shifts will help you prevent burnout, improve productivity and promote good health. If you’re feeling tired, or if it’s getting late, simply shift the light spectrum and give your body what it needs. By pairing lighting (specifically biologically-optimized lighting) and caffeine, you can eke out the last modicum of productivity from your life, while keeping your circadian rhythms in sync and your body and mind healthy.
About the Author: Brandon Zaharoff
As a sustainability and health & wellness-focused private equity investor, Brandon Zaharoff is passionate about the ways in which solutions can be seamlessly integrated into the existing routines of individuals and businesses. Mr. Zaharoff works for Pegasus Capital Advisors and engages with hundreds of leading organizations pursuing a solutions-oriented approach to meaningfully improving lives. Previously Mr. Zaharoff worked at Linden Capital Partners, a healthcare and life sciences private equity firm, and in the healthcare M&A group of William Blair & Company, a global investment bank. This extensive background in healthcare and finance provides Mr. Zaharoff a unique perspective regarding how to create value through patient health improvement.