The Cold Hard Truth About Blue Light And Your Sleep

Photo borrowed from here

Photo borrowed from here

Hello dear friends!

Did you know that right this very moment, your brain is being bombarded with wavelengths of light that can alter the function of your hormones and other neurotransmitters? I’m going to bet that you’re reading this on your smart phone, laptop, or tablet, which is flooding your eyes with blue light, like all LED screens do.

Are you also reading this right before you go to bed? If you are, it’s likely that you’re (like most people) in the habit of browsing your electronics before hitting the hay, and you may be selling yourself short on sleep because of it.

Just in the past few years, scientists have been able to strongly correlate the timing of exposure to heavy-blue light emitting screens and sleep patterns. And that’s because we know what blue light does to our brains: it mimics the sun’s light, which is an environmental signal for us to be awake and alert. Our brains have evolved over millennia to respond to even the tiniest bit of light on the blue end of the spectrum, to tell us when to wake up, (corresponding with the dawn) and when to go to sleep (when the daylight fades). The human circadian rhythm is a wondrous and finely tuned pattern that keeps us in sync with our environment…until electronics came along and mucked it all up!

The thing is, blue light (which is strongest around mid-morning) is a fantastic thing for us during the daytime. It hampers melatonin production, improves cognitive functioning, and speeds response times. Exposing yourself to lots of blue light during the day is a good thing, and can actually help you sleep better at night. But only if you also protect your brain from that same blue light during the nighttime hours.

Because this spectrum of light is so powerful to inhibit melatonin production, even a little bit (simply checking a text at midnight, blasting on the bathroom lights to brush your teeth or pee one last time…) can send your brain mixed signals and make it harder to fall asleep.

And for voracious readers like me, shutting down that e-reader at dusk just simply isn’t gonna happen! Same goes for all the bloggers, freelancers, journalists, designers, and workaholics out there who create and connect well past sundown. It’s okay to be attached to your phone or your laptop- I get it! And it’s also unrealistic to expect every screen to be hidden from view once the darkness falls outside your window, so luckily there are tools to help reduce the impact on your sleep.

So if you’re ready to repair your circadian rhythm and get some more solid zzz’s, check out a few of these cool tools:


1. Amber goggles

Yep, that’s me- don't I just look faaaabulous? Those goggles may look a little silly, but they work great to block out the blue light that comes from my phone and e-reader after dusk. And the best part is, they’re really cheap: like $10 or less. A small price to pay to protect your melatonin levels! And these are on the "front line" of defense- meaning, they are at your eyes, blocking all the light sources in the surrounding area (some you may not even be aware of) and they're better than running around trying to dim or filter every little LED source in your house!

Mind you though, these are not a catch-all cure. If all your lights are on full-blast, and your screens are cranked up to the brightest they can go, you may not see a significant benefit. So switch off a few bulbs, scoot the brightness down a bit, and don your fashionable amber goggles. You may find you drift off into dreamland a little easier.


2. f.lux

This snazzy software system is pretty simple and pretty ingenious at the same time. It shifts the color of the light being emitted from your computer screen to correspond with the light/dark cycle outside. During the bright daytime hours, your screen will be its usual bright blue self, but once the dusk hits, it will become a little dimmer and more amber colored.

It’s easy to install and you’ll never have to be blinded by that eerie blue screen at night anymore! I've had this on my laptop for at least a year now, and it's great because it's automatic: when the sun goes down, it changes- there's no waiting on you to remember to get up and turn the lights down or put on your goggles! There are also similar programs for your iPhone and android phones. 


3. Orange light bulbs

If you have a few lamps in your bedroom that perhaps you read by, or flip on when you’re getting ready for bed, it might be worth it to swap in some orange bulbs. They’re a little more pricey than normal blue light bulbs, but are incredibly effective at creating a healthy and sleep-encouraging nest of rest.

Essentially any way you can both tone down and warm up the lighting in your home after the sun sets, the better. And sometimes that requires getting a little goofy! Other colors of bulbs and/or rave parties not (necessarily) included. 


4. Filters

Yep, the often easiest way to block the nasty blues before bed is to simply put something between the LED light source and your eyes. For things like tablets or TVs, they sell plastic films and covers that are essentially like amber goggles for your electronics (if you aren’t too keen on wearing them for hours every night). Some of these are rather pricey, but are very effective, and you never have to worry about accidentally taking in the blue glow when getting ready for bed.

Other options can be some simple orange (semi-sheer, of course) fabric over a lamp, orange film over a super bright window (especially if you live in an urban area), and many other creative ideas that you can find with a simple internet search. Then, there’s the option to just limit the amount of time you spend scrolling online before hitting the hay. Researchers have found that the more angles you approach this from, the more you can improve your sleep. i.e. if you cut your tablet play time by half, dim the screen by half, and wear amber goggles, you are getting three times the benefit!


So friends, have you heard about this blue-blocking trend? Have you tried it?

I’d like to challenge you to a little sleep hygiene experiment- pick one of the tools I’ve suggested above, and use it consistently for a week. Keep track of how you sleep and how you’re feeling during the day (a sleep/fitness tracker can be useful here as well), and I’m gonna bet that you see a noticeable improvement by the end of your seven days!

Let me know how it goes in the comments!

Now, let’s all go get some zzz’s…

 

~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~