Does Blue Light Actually Affect Our Sleep Cycle?
Light at night disrupts your health, and exposure to blue light is especially problematic. Light throws the body’s biological clock out of rhythm, shifting our circadian rhythm. Sleep suffers. But not all colors of light have the same effect.
Commonly emitted by electronics and energy-efficient light bulbs, blue light is beneficial during daylight hours because it boosts attention, reaction times, and mood. However, when exposed to it at night, blue light can result in devastating health effects – especially after sundown.
What is Blue Light?
Light is made up of electromagnetic particles that travel in waves, which emit energy. The shorter the wavelength, the higher its energy. Every wavelength is represented by a different color, and one in particular is known to disrupt sleep.
Blue light has a very short wavelength, and so produces a higher amount of energy. It helps boosts alertness, heightens reaction times, elevates mood, and increases the feeling of well being. But chronic exposure to blue light at night can lower the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep, and disrupt your circadian rhythm.
Sources of blue light include the sun, digital screens (i.e. TVs, computers, smart phones and tablet), electronic devices and fluorescent and LED lighting.
The Right Balance of Blue Light
There is nothing wrong with blue light for most of the day, and we need it to get us going in the morning. The worrying negative effects are connected with the melatonin deficit and disruption of circadian rhythms that leads to less sleep and decreased quality of sleep.
While we need to be more mindful of our blue light exposure, proximity is just as important. With technological advances evolving, smart phones, tablets and laptops are within arm’s reach during the evenings. The blue light exposure emitted from these devices increases and changes our body’s level of alertness, tricking the body into thinking it should be awake. Thus, negatively impacting sleep patterns and quality.
Here are some recommendations to help strike that balance:
- Get light exposure during the day. Daytime exposure to light – natural and artificial – can help strengthen circadian rhythms and boost daytime alertness. This might seem counterintuitive, but it is important to remember that blue light itself isn’t bad for you. It is essential for our biological functioning, and we need it to alert our body that it’s daytime. It only becomes of concern when you get too much of it at night. A balance of daytime light exposure can help you be better prepared to sleep at night.
- Limit exposure to artificial light in the hours before bed. 90 minutes before bed, use this time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Decrease your exposure to light. You don’t have to sit in a pitch-black room, but you should limit your exposure to bright lights, whether from your television or mobile device. Make the last 90 minutes of your bedtime ritual electronics free – keeping electronic gadgets and devices out of reach.
- Turn the brightness down. If using a tablet or smart phone, adjust the screen’s brightness level down. The brighter a display is, the more the light hits the back of our eye, leading to greater melatonin disruption. Turning down the brightness can reduce the amount of blue light hitting our eye. Some devices also have ‘evening’ modes where screen displays are automatically dimmer and consist of longer wavelengths.
- Use display-altering software. There are several apps for your devices that allow you to adjust the color intensity of the light exposure from your screens. Software like f.lux automatically adjusts the color your display based on the time of day. For Androids, the app Night Filter does the same thing.
- If you need access to light in the middle of the night, use nightlights. Avoid switching on hallway or bathroom light.
- If you work a night shift or use a lot of electronic devices at night, consider wearing blue-blocking glasses. These block the blue light from your devices and lamps from reaching your retina.
Schedule a Consultation
Exposure to light at night can disrupt your circadian rhythm. Blue light, in particular, can shift and negatively impact sleep quality. If you are experiencing difficulty in sleeping, consult your doctor to discuss in detail. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Shukla today and get better sleep now.