As a country, we are hooked on our devices—smartphones, tablets, computers, TVs, etc. And over the past year, that attachment to electronics has only grown worse.
Millions of people are still working from home and millions more students are distance learning. And to top things off, binge-watching a show on any number of streaming services has become a habit shared by millions as it they have become more readily available.
This rampant accessibility of technology (combined with our dependency on it to stay connected amidst a global pandemic) is taking a toll on our eyes and our sleep.
And now more than ever, one culprit is to blame: blue light.
This threat to the windows of our soul and the cornerstone of good health—restful sleep—is hiding in plain sight.
It is time to bring this menace to light, so you can finally sleep better at night.
What Is Blue Light?
Blue light is not really blue, just like ultra-violet is not actually violet. Wavelengths of blue light emit from every computer, smartphone, and tablet. It even emits from every LED light source, including flat screen TVs and energy-saving lightbulbs.
Blue light rays have more energy than other wavelengths, meaning they can penetrate the eyes faster and deeper than other light rays. Furthermore, blue light rays interfere with the production of melatonin—the “sleep hormone.”
Why is this important?
Effects of Blue Light
The body has a built-in clock called a circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is the broad term for all the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that occur in the body during a 24-hour period. These changes are brought about by a variety of hormone changes that are activated and deactivated by exposure to light and darkness. One such change occurs when your body releases melatonin. the hormone that signals when “it’s time to sleep.”
During the day, when light is abundant, melatonin levels are low. But as the day moves into dusk and light gives way to more darkness, melatonin levels increase—peaking in the middle of the night for maximum sleep. It then gradually lowers, as the sun rises, so that you’re naturally nudged awake.
Before the proliferation of electricity and artificial light, our ancestors’ circadian rhythm was uninterrupted—when the sun set, there was little else to do but wind down for the day. Today, however, when the sun sets, the lights go on—and the battle for restful sleep begins.
Exposure to blue light wavelengths (especially after dark) tricks the body into thinking it is daytime, preventing the release of melatonin that would normally help us become sleepy and stay asleep—thus throwing off your entire circadian rhythm.
In other words, when you stare at a screen before bedtime, every system—digestive, neurological, etc.—thinks it is wake-up time and goes into high alert. As a result, your whole sleep cycle is interrupted.
Minimize Blue Light Exposure
It is easy to say you should reduce your exposure to blue light by not looking at your devices or watching TV at night. But realistically, no one is going to listen to that advice. It would require living in the dark (and the dark ages!) once the sun goes down.
At the very least, though, it is a good idea to shut down all electronics an hour before going to bed. That will help you drift off, of course. But more importantly, it will also signal to your body that it is time for bed and time for your organs and systems to take a much-needed rest as well.
If you absolutely cannot get away from your phone or tablet before bedtime, there are many free downloadable apps that automatically diminish the amount of blue light emitted based on the local time of your sunset.
Blue Light Blocking Glasses
Additionally, you can purchase and use special glasses that block or reduce blue light.
In fact, new research finds that wearing blue-light filtering glasses just before retiring for the night can lead to not only a better night’s sleep but a more productive and overall better day once you awaken.
In this two-part study, participants were selected to wear either blue-light filtering glasses or placebo glasses.
In part one, the researchers collected data from 63 managers. They found that wearing blue-light filtering glasses, “is an effective intervention to improve physiological (sleep), attitudinal (work engagement), and behavioral (task performance, organizational citizenship behavior, and counterproductive work behavior) outcomes.”
Part two, in which they collected data from 67 call center representatives, yielded similar outcomes.
The researchers of this study concluded that wearing these glasses “creates a form of physiologic darkness, thus improving both sleep quantity and quality.” In essence, the blue light filter “tricks” your brain into thinking it is darker than it may be.
Benefits Of Blue Light Glasses
Improved sleep and better job performance are two of the many benefits that blue light blocking glasses offer. And while there are a variety of blue light blocking glasses available online,if you wear prescription glasses, you can also add this feature to your lenses.
But beyond blue light-blocking lenses, your exposure mitigation efforts can also help lessen eye strain and discomfort that arises after staring at a screen for too long.
Because blue light has also been implicated in eye diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration, doing what you can to reduce your exposure now, can save your eyes and vision later in life.
And that type of prevention is a winning formula for protecting your eyes and sleeping soundly in no time.
Take good care.
Guarana C, et al. The effects of blue-light filtration on sleep and work outcomes. J Appl Psychol. 2020 Jul 13.
Disclaimer: Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
Last Updated: May 19, 2021
Originally Published: March 10, 2021