Blue light. It is the wavelength of light that is emitted from your smartphone, tablet, laptop, television, fluorescent lights and LED strips over your bed. Although blue light wavelengths have been found to make you more alert which is great for daytime, it is not so good when you’re trying to fall asleep. Does your daily sleep routine involve you checking emails or scrolling through your Facebook feed before bed? Do you read an ebook on your tablet before you shut your eyes? Do you often have trouble falling asleep? Your device’s blue light is ruining your sleep.
Blue Light & Your Body Clock
Our bodies are meant to function on a body clock, called the circadian rhythm which is set by light. These rhythms set sleeping and feeding patterns, brain activity, hormone production and cell regeneration. As the sun comes up your brain is stimulated and your body starts to warm up and produce hormones like cortisol to wake you up. Research has found that exposure to blue light suppresses the production of sleep hormone melatonin more than any other type of light. This means your body isn’t getting the signal from natural fading light to start going to sleep. The body is more sensitive to this type of light and the shorter wavelengths of in blue light is believed to cause this suppression.
“In terms of light and our brains, there is a spectrum of wavelengths that impacts the human circadian system,” said David Earnest, a professor and circadian rhythms expert at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine. “Blue light is the most sensitive side of the spectrum.”
Merely being exposed to light at night could be ruining the quality of your sleep. There are many many studies that have shown that working at night is linked somehow to increased chance of morbidity. While it’s not clear why, it is suggested that the reduced production of melatonin has a role to play with increased risk of developing some types of cancers. One study showed that blood sugar levels increased in shift workers, throwing them into a prediabetic state and the hormone that tells you when you’re full after eating, leptin, went down showing a link to diabetes and obesity. “Light at night is part of the reason so many people don’t get enough sleep,” says Stephen Lockley, Sleep Researcher. Short sleep has also been linked to increased risk for depression, as well as diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
Reducing Blue Light
What can you do to reduce the effect of blue light on your body so you can get a good night’s sleep? In one study of blue light, researchers compared the melatonin levels of people exposed to bright indoor light who were wearing blue-light–blocking goggles to people exposed to regular dim light without wearing goggles. Their hormone levels were comparable so it does suggest that you could reduce being exposed to blue light if you were a shift worker by wearing glasses that block out only blue light. While this might be something to consider if you’re a night owl, there are other ways to reduce your blue light exposure before you go to sleep.
- Use dim red lights for night lights. Red light has the least power to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin.
- Avoid looking at bright screens before you go to bed. “To prevent sleeping problems, avoid any exposure to blue light 30 to 60 minutes prior to bed. That means, no TV, tablets, computers or smart phones,” said Dr. Robert Oexman, director of the Sleep to Live Institute. “Ideally, you want your environment to be dimly lit so your body can start naturally producing melatonin.”
- There are apps you can install that filters the blue/green wavelength at night on some electronic devices. IPhone’s have an inbuilt function called ‘Night Shift’ which will emit a yellow light. F.lux is another app you can install on your computer that will adapt your computer’s light with the time of day.
- Install a smart home technologies that will gradually dim your lights at a certain time to encourage your body to start getting ready for sleep.
- Change your LEDs in your bedroom to full spectrum lights.
- Expose yourself to lots of bright light during the day, which will boost your ability to sleep at night, as well as your mood and alertness during daylight.
So if you find you consistently have trouble sleeping, it may well be that your body clock is out of whack. Take a look at how much light your body is exposed to in those couple hours leading up to sleep and see if making some changes will make sleeping a lot easier. You should find that your body will become more in tune to when you are tired and get back into a better natural sleep rhythm. If none of this helps, maybe you need to take a couple weeks break from all artificial light to really reset your body clock!
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