Filter Blue Light to Sleep Better
Do you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? When you wake up in the morning, does it take longer to get out of bed and shake off that sleepy feeling?
Now, these next questions may seem unrelated, but stay with me. Do you surf the Internet on your smartphone, tablet, or computer after sunset? Do you watch TV after sunset? Do you frequently upgrade (i.e. upsize) your smartphones, tablets, and TVs?
Truth is, your sleep patterns and your “screen time” are closely related. Those devices emit what’s called blue light, which disrupts your sleep, damages your eyes, and can lead to very serious long-term health consequences.
I’ll explain how blue light and sleeplessness affect your health and how you can regain the sleep you’ve been losing. I cannot stress enough how vital this is to your daily and long-term health. So, please read on.
What is Blue Light?
Blue light isn’t literally blue, just like ultra-violet isn’t actually violet. Wavelengths of blue light emit from every computer, smartphone, tablet and laptop screen. It even emits from every LED light source, including flat screen televisions and energy-saving lightbulbs. Blue light rays have more energy than other wavelengths, meaning they can penetrate our eyes faster and deeper that other light rays.
In the past 10 years, there’s been a flood of hugely popular products that emit blue light. You don’t just look at blue light sources for hours each day, your face is often extremely close to these sources. Exposure to blue light is linked to high levels of retinal damage and cell death. Blue light overexposure could also be playing a role in the rise of cataracts and even blindness.
But the dangers of blue light exposure only begin with your eyes. What’s more concerning is how much blue light exposure is disrupting your sleep which, in turn, creates an avalanche of short-term and long-term health problems if not properly addressed.
How Blue Light Disrupts Your Sleep
Your body has a built-in clock called a circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is the broad term for all the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that occur in your body during a 24-hour period. These changes are brought about by a variety of hormone changes that are activated and deactivated by your exposure to light and darkness.
Regarding sleep, your body releases the hormone melatonin to signal that “it’s time to sleep.” During the day, when light is abundant, your melatonin level is low. But as the day moves into dusk and light gives way to more darkness, your melatonin levels increase—peaking in the middle of the night for maximum sleep. It then gradually lowers, as the sun rises, so you can wake up.
Before the proliferation of electricity and artificial light, our ancestors’ circadian rhythm was fairly uninterrupted. When the sun set, there was little else to do but wind down for the day.
Fast forward to the present: When the sun sets, your lights go on. Your exposure to blue light wavelengths (especially after dark) tricks your body into thinking it’s day time, preventing the release of melatonin that would normally help your body become sleepy and stay asleep—thus throwing off your entire circadian rhythm.
No wonder so many people have trouble falling asleep. Your brightly lit laptop, smartphone and television screen are signaling “daytime” to your brain. That smartphone so close to your face is the last thing you need.
A recent study proved this. One group of participants were given printed books to read, the other was given light-emitting devices. Those who read from devices:
- Took longer to fall asleep
- Had less healthy REM (dreaming) sleep
- Felt and acted more awake before bedtime
- Took longer to wake up after 8 hours of sleep
Health Effects of Inadequate Sleep
For me, sleep is a sacred pillar to my health. Without good sleep, there is no good health. Simple as that. Good sleep means getting a minimum of 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. And that’s not just my personal medical opinion. It’s backed by enough data to fill an airport hangar.
Chronic sleep problems can lead to:
- High blood pressure
- Cognitive dysfunction
- Type 2 diabetes
- Weight gain
- Weakened immune system
- Weakened endocrine system
- Weakened respiratory system
- Weakened immune system
- Weakened central nervous system
- Heart disease
- Balance problems
So, if you’re among the chronically sleep deprived, here are a few tips for better sleep hygiene.
How to Reduce Blue Light Exposure
By now, I hope you’re wondering what you can do to protect yourself against damaging blue light.
And I’m sure you recognize that minimizing your screen time—tablet, smartphone, laptop, desktop, television—especially within the hours before bedtime, is an obvious solution.
If you absolutely can’t get away from the screens before bedtime, there are free applications you can download to your phone or tablet that automatically diminish the amount of blue light emitted based on the local time of your sunset. Blue Light Filter and Twilight are two popular ones.
You can also purchase purchases glasses that block or reduce blue and other artificial light colors.
Turning off the room lights and turning down the brightness of your screen is helpful, too.
I try to define my screen time as either essential or entertaining—and I try to limit the latter. Some non-screen entertainment: listening to music, audiobooks, radio, or podcasts; reading paper books or e-readers without a backlight; talking in person or on the phone; writing longhand, e.g. journaling, letters, novels, poetry; or making art, like whittling, crochet, or painting.
And keep in mind that TV is less of a threat than hand-held devices because your eyes are many feet away from the former and only inches away from the latter. (Provided, of course, that your TV isn’t big and bright enough to light the whole room on its own.)
How to Combat Effects of Blue Light on Your Eyes
In addition to limiting your blue light exposure, you can also protect your eyes with a proper diet and supplements, which can reduce your risk of Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) by up to 25 percent.
Go for a diet rich in many different colored fruits and vegetables, each color signaling the presence of a different antioxidant. Buy local, fresh, and organic only. Avoid all processed foods. Use olive or coconut oil.
And get extra help in the form of supplements.
Vitamin A, for example, is an outstanding AMD deterrent. But the FDA recommended daily minimum amount of vitamin A, 3000 IU, is too low. You’d have to eat bushels of kale and carrots to reach an effective amount. I recommend that you aim for 10,000 IU daily of vitamin A combining food sources and supplements. Take a maximum of 3,000 mcg/day (10,000 IU) of supplemental vitamin A.
I also recommend these other daily supplements:
- Copper: up to 1 mg/day, less for children or pregnant women
- Zinc: up to 25 mg/day
- Vitamin C: 500 mg
- Vitamin E: 400 IU
- Beta-carotene: 15 mg
- Vitamin D3: 125 mcg/5,000 IU
- Omega-3: 1,500–3,000 mg
- CoQ10: 100–200 mg
All of these natural supplements, taken together, add up to healthy eyes that are much less likely to succumb to vision trouble.
How to Get More and Better Sleep…Without Sleeping Pills
On top of reducing your screen time, there are a host of natural ways to get more, better sleep.
Exercise naturally tires your body, which allows you to fall asleep easier and stay asleep longer. Even just going for regular brisk walks, of 10–15 minutes at a time, can make a big difference in your sleep quality.
A healthy diet directly impacts your ability to sleep. Avoid eating two to three hours before bedtime so your blood sugar level is not spiking when it’s time to wind down. Diets rich in fiber help regulate your blood sugar levels and aid the digestion of food. And, of course, avoid sugars, caffeine, and other stimulants that impede your body’s ability to rest—monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartame, and casein are other biggies to avoid.
Deep breathing is an underappreciated method to help you relax. Just 15 minutes of daily deep breathing meditation helps train your body to relax on command. So when you are tossing and turning, you can focus on deep breathing to help settle down your mind and body.
I also suggest a few side-effect-free supplements that are widely available. Start with 1 milligram of melatonin (yes, the name of that previously mentioned hormone involved in your circadian rhythm) about 30 to 60 minutes before your preferred bedtime. If 1 mg doesn’t get the job done after a few nights in a row, you can try 2 or 3 mg.
L-theanine is another great one. If you’ve never heard of L-theanine, it’s the amino acid in green tea that makes the tea so soothing and calming. Try 200 mg 30 to 60 minutes before bed. Studies have shown that hops and lemon balm can also help you sleep. Talk with your doctor about which supplements can best help you based on your needs.
But if your sleep problems are bigger than screen time, exercise and supplements, I suggest that you take the extra step to talk with your doctor or sleep professional. They will be able to identify other habits or ailments that may be disrupting your sleep and distinguish whether your raggedy sleep cycle is a result of something else, like sleep apnea.
Put Out the Lights and Sleep Tight
It’s easy to write off the dangers of blue light exposure: “It’s a necessary evil.” “Everybody else is doing it.” “It’s the way our society’s heading and our bodies should just get used to it.”
Nonsense. The stakes are too high.
If you’re not getting 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night, please follow these recommendations. Your mind and body will thank you ten-fold!
- “The Lowdown on Blue Light: Good vs. Bad, and Its Connection to AMD” Review of Optometry. Published February 2014. Last accessed April 22, 2017.
- “Blue Light and Your Eyes” Prevent Blindness. Published NA. Last accessed April 22, 2017.
- Schmerler, Jessica. “Q&A: Why Is Blue Light before Bedtime Bad for Sleep?” Scientific American Mind. Published September 1, 2015. Last accessed April 22, 2017.
- “Why Is Sleep Important?” Updated February 22, 2012. Last accessed April 22, 2017.
- “Circadian Rhythms Fact Sheet” Published NA. Last accessed April 22, 2017.
- Pietrangelo, Ann. “The Effects Of Sleep Deprivation On The Body” Reviewed August 19, 2014. Last accessed April 22, 2017.
- “Circadian Rhythms” UCLA Sleep Disorders Center. Published NA. Last accessed April 22, 2017.
- Chang, Anne Marie, et al. “Evening Use of Light-Emitting eReaders Negatively Affects Sleep, Circadian Timing, and Next-Morning Alertness.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Published January 2015.
Last Updated: January 2, 2020
Originally Published: May 19, 2017