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In the corporate world, if you don’t work effectively, efficiently, and thoroughly, everyone knows that someone else would happily take your place. Given this fact, it must be asked: why work so hard to succeed if you’re going to cripple yourself the second you clock out for the day?
Determined employees focus on getting ahead at work. Their determination and drive matches that of professional athletes. Yet, for many, maybe even most, healthy eating, enough exercise, and (most importantly) getting 7-9 hours of sleep aren’t priorities. Among other aspects of their lifestyle, these errors in judgement, even more than body composition, negatively affects their abilities and focus.
If business professionals approached their habits more like athletes, they would perform more like athletes. They would excel far beyond their present capabilities.
Acting Like an Athlete
For professional athletes, being in tip-top shape, both physically and mentally, is of the utmost importance. Each athlete must focus on having optimal energy levels. When they need it most, they must bring peak energy. Most importantly, they must avoid crashing, especially come game time.
Yes, these million-dollar-machines spend an exorbitant amount of time in training. The training simply serves their desire to perform their best when it matters most. Don’t we all want that same thing for our own performance?
For average Americans, an immense divide stands between the healthy, performance lifestyle of an athlete and their own lifestyle. Everyone notices the well-tuned physique of athletes and its incredible impact on their performance. Given this fact, frankly, it’s baffling that more people don’t step up their game. Learning to optimize the way you live, like athletes do, even if you don’t like sports and fitness, makes a world of difference.
In our daily routines, no matter how mundane, we don’t have to reach for that third cup of coffee or overpriced energy drink to make it through because there are things we can all do to have athletic-like energy and performance to maximize our work performance.
Believe it or not, having that energy, starts with light, and your eyes.
Energy Starts with the Eyes
Our bodies function throughout the day based on circadian rhythm. Simply put, your circadian rhythm is your body clock. It tells you when to wake up, and when go to bed. Many factors can positively and negatively impact your circadian rhythm. These factors can get a bit technical, but bear with us, your health depends on it!
Since your rhythm runs your physiology, it feeds off of four external factors which affect its ability: light, hormones, temperature, and food. Let’s start with light.
“Light entrains and effects all of [our] physiology. The retina mediates processes via the retinohypothalamic tract which facilitates autonomic responses and hormonal communication. Literally every cell depends on the rhythm in order to function in their own circadian manner, so it requires little imagination to fathom the extent of dysregulation that can occur with inappropriate phase shifting as a result of prolonged exposure to irritating wavelengths of light. Blue light has somewhat of a paradoxical reputation, with some research praising it for melatonin suppression and arousal promoting effects, while others demonize it due to its phototoxicity and insomniogenic attributes.” —Caleb Greer, BSN, RN, Revive Treatment Centers
In other words, overexposure to blue light will prevent your circadian rhythm from telling your body when to become tired. Yes, natural blue light in the morning helps you wake up, and become more alert. However, sustained exposure from artificial sources only serves to interrupt your body clock in a negative way.
Blue Light, Good and Bad
Greer further states we must learn what “blue light” means. A decent portion of the visible light spectrum covers it, from 380 to 500nm [nanometers]. As the literature suggests, blue light (and some of the UV spectrum) is necessary for proper function. Photoreceptors capture photons from rays and utilize the energy to induce a cascade that results in an action, from color vision and dim-light vision to photoentrainment and hormonal periodicity.
However, blue light never appears on its own in the solar spectrum. In fact, red and infrared light vastly outshine it. In isolation, blue light induces photochemical damage across the retina and macula. Oxidative stress results in the production of reactive molecular species that damage cell structure and energy flux.
Two issues now stand regarding artificial light: (1) the frequency, and (2) the duration of exposure to it. To be clear, this discussion means no ill will to natural blue light. Artificial blue light presents the real danger because of its frequency, and the lack of red light. Red light, as we said, assists with healing and energy production.
The incoming barrage of artificial blue light becomes too great for our retinas to handle. What happens to the eye? According to Caleb, the healing process in the eye decreases which then causes energy transfers within the eye to slow down. This results in circadian rhythms being thrown off track.
“Blue light from your computers can contribute to digital eye strain and long-term health issues.” —Dr. Eric White, O.D.
Dr. White recommends wearing amber tinted lenses while looking at digital screens to prevent these issues. Amber lenses help prevent digital eye strain because they offer added visual contrast and the filtering of blue light. Oversaturation of blue light decreases visual acuity, depth perception, and makes focusing difficult. This ultimately makes our eyes work harder, resulting in greater eye fatigue and headaches. In the long-term, there are studies and literature stating blue light can cause cataracts and macular degeneration.
Blue Light and RPE
A recent study by the Midwestern University and Arizona College of Optometry studied damage to retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells caused by blue light. That such damage occurs has been known for 40 years. RPE cells are the pigmented protective layer just outside the neurosensory retina that nourishes retinal visual cells, and helps with light absorption. These cells are extremely important because they improve the overall quality of the optical system. Not only that, but they absorb the scattered light and diminish the photo-oxidative stress on the retina.
This new study showed that after three weeks of exposure, defects began to appear in the RPE layer and cell size was reduced. By four weeks of exposure to blue light, there was a 30% reduction in cell numbers and viability. These results suggest that exposure to levels of blue light that might occur in a normal setting can damage important RPE cells.
The Need for Quality Sleep
Sleep represents one of the greatest clinical arenas in which the relationship between exposure to irritating, artificial blue light and our circadian rhythm surfaces. Hormonal modulators depend on proper lighting and circadian synchrony; blue light disrupts this process. Blue light signals a “daytime” command which helps activate our daytime behaviors.
What happens when we expose our eyes to this during evening hours? The brain believes daytime it is still daytime and that it needs to adapt. Unsurprisingly this, consequently, causes poor or inadequate sleep. We must realize that the cause of much of the population’s disturbed sleep may be prolonged exposure to this environmental cue.
Athletes and Sleep
Jeff Zeilstra, of Fatigue Science work extensively with elite athletes and military operators. From this, they learn that consistent, good quality sleep correlates closely to human performance, both cognitively and physiologically. Over the past several years, performance coaches and researchers learned that tissue growth and repair occurs during deep sleep. Sleep is a time for metabolic rebalancing.
For instance, when athletes are sleep deprived, the production of cortisol—the hormone linked to unhealthy stress—increases as well as bio-markers such as inflammation. Furthermore, testosterone, growth hormones, glycogen, and carbohydrates, each essential for athletic performance, all decrease. Furthermore, as discussed earlier, keeping consistent sleep/wake patterns will keep the body’s circadian rhythm in check in order to help maximize daytime alertness and energy.
“Deep sleep—the kind that occurs in later stages of non-REM and REM sleep—is vital for restoring brain cells and neural pathways, ridding the brain of toxins, and critical for short and long term cognitive health.” —Jeff Zeilstra, Fatigue Science Account Executive
Thomas Delauer, celebrity trainer and health author, has advice on maintaining bodily health through sleep:
“Your natural circadian rhythm takes its cues from your environment and can generally be considered the body’s central clock. Essentially the brain sees environmental cues such as it getting dark out or it getting later in the day, and it then sends messages to our peripheral clock. Your peripheral clock is your body’s cells, organs, and the body itself. These messages coordinate your body’s sleep cycles, daily routines, and they make physical adjustments based on messages from your central clock and peripheral clock.” —Thomas Delauer, Trainer, Author
Understanding circadian rhythm helps you maintain your body’s ideal health and get the restorative sleep necessary to drive daily performance.
According to a recent article on WebMD, there’s a growing sense that lack of good quality, natural circadian rhythm sleep could be taking a serious toll on our health. Frank Scheer, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, states that because circadian rhythm affects how our bodies function, disrupting it can throw the system out of whack. This includes our cardiovascular system, metabolism, digestion, immune system, and hormonal balance. This sort of disruption can have serious consequences for our health.
Thomas Delauer offers some helpful ways to improve your hormone cycle, to prevent imbalance.
- Surround yourself with bright light in the morning to help your body get started for the day
- Minimize your blue light in the afternoons and evening to allow your body to wind down
Being and living at your best need not be a difficult chore, nor does it require a lot of time. Simple things like eating right, regular exercise, limiting blue light during the afternoons and evenings, and protecting your eyes throughout the day all contribute to an increase in quality sleep and daytime energy. We may not all reach professional athlete levels of fitness and health, but we can do a lot to benefit our lifestyles by following the counsel in this article.
Thomas Delauer, Celebrity Trainer, Health Author
Caleb Greer, BSN, RN, Revive Treatment Centers
Dr. Frank Scheer, Ph.D., Neuroscientist, Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Ron Wilson, CEO, HYLETE, Inc.
Dr. Eric White, O.D.
Dr. Michael Kozlowski, Ph.D., O.D., FAAO, Midwestern University
Jeff Zeilstra, Fatigue Science
John Allen Mollenhauer, Performance Lifestyle® Inc.