3.29.2018

How Blue Light Is Affecting Your Sleep (And How To Fix It)

(photo by Jay Wennington)

For nearly all of history, the only source of light for humans was the sun. That's it. And we centered our days around it; we woke with the sun, and slept once it went down. But with the invention of the light bulb, suddenly man was thrust into a predicament we were never designed to handle.
Now, I'm grateful for the advent of electric lighting as much as the next person, but it hasn't brought only positive things.
So, before I continue, let's talk about what blue light is exactly. From this website, blue light is simple "the portion of the visible light spectrum with the shortest wavelengths and highest energy." And it's not bad, but the way we're using it seems to be causing negative effects on us.  
Up until the 1800s, it was pretty much impossible to be exposed to any blue light once the sun went down. And that's actually pretty crazy when you think about how quickly that's changed, and in such potency.
Fire and candles were forms on man-induced light, but neither of those sources contain any blue light. But now we're dealing with computer, tablets, phones, tv, and even the lightbulb in our fridges.

What blue light does to our bodies
So what exactly is all this blue light exposure dong to us? Now, blue light isn't inherently bad, it's important and we need it for for things mood-boosting and alertness. Just not in the way most of us are getting it.
If you're at all familiar with circadian rhythm, you'll know that it's basically our internal 24-hour clock, the wiring in our brain that tells us when it's time to sleep and when it's time to wake. But since the sun isn't our only form of light anymore, our bodies can easily get knocked out of this natural rhythm. And since sleep disorders and issues are a real problem for most Americans, this isn't something we should be brushing aside. So scrolling on instagram while lying in bed isn't only unproductive, but bad for our sleep cycles as well. When you think about it, it's one of the most unnatural things for our bodies to experience. Large amounts of blue light when the moon is up? Y'all, we were not created for thiiiiis. I mean, there's a reason why it'd be incredibly hard to fall asleep with a bright light shining in your face. When the body is exposed to blue light, the secretion of melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep, ceases. So it's easy to see how staring at your phone in bed could be making it difficult for you to quickly and easily fall asleep.
From Harvard:
A Harvard study shed a little bit of light on the possible connection to diabetes and possibly obesity. The researchers put 10 people on a schedule that gradually shifted the timing of their circadian rhythms. Their blood sugar levels increased, throwing them into a prediabetic state, and levels of leptin, a hormone that leaves people feeling full after a meal, went down. Even dim light can interfere with a person's circadian rhythm and melatonin secretion. A mere eight lux—a level of brightness exceeded by most table lamps and about twice that of a night light—has an effect, notes Stephen Lockley, a Harvard sleep researcher.
I think it's fairly easy for people to understand that we put in our bodies, like food and drugs, have a direct affect on our health, but it's harder for people to make the connection between light and health. And that's a totally fair place to be. It's not quite as obvious. But just like with nutrition, we can change our light exposure lifestyle to improve our health (and sleep).

How can I limit my blue light?
WOW. Glad you asked. I just happened to have compiled 5 simple steps you can try out for reducing your blue light exposure! Let's get your circadian rhythm back in check.

1. Get a blue light blocker extension for your computer. And I've found Flux to be the best out there. It's totally free and downloading it was one of my wiser decisions. It makes your computer display warmer as the sun begins to set. I used to get headaches when I'd stay up late on my computer editing, but once I started using Flux, the pain went away instantly. Like, instantly. It was weird. In a good way. If you don't believe me, just try it for yourself!
And don't worry the it might feel weird staring at an orange screen. It's such a subtle process, that I never really notice it happening. It's super easy to use and customizable. I definitely recommend it.

2.  Invest in some blue light blocking glasses. Several different companies now make what essentially looks like a pair of orange sunglasses to wear at night (while you're watching tv, are on the computer, etc.) Now this one may seem a bit silly and overdone to some, but it's really not that weird when you're only wearing them around the house at night. I dunno. Your call. (You can find some here and here.) Also, EyeBuyDirect and Felix Gray sell regular prescription glasses with a blue blocking coating, so that might be worth looking into.

3. Make your bedroom a blue light free zone. Switch out your light bulbs with some color-changing LED bulbs. I have some of these, and they come with a little remote so it's super easy to switch the light from white to orange or red once dawn hits! If you live in the city or suburbs, get some blackout curtains for your bedroom (P.S. they don't actually have to be black- they come in all different colors!) Salt lamps have also grown in popularity recently, but they're not just for looks. I use mine so that I can safely and happily read before bed without any blue light. (Plus, okay, they are just really pretty.)

4. Utilize your phone's night cycle. If you have an iPhone, this function can be easily accessed through Settings > Display & Brightness > Night Shift. You can set it to automatically turn on and off at anytime you choose, and it's super easy to use. I have mine to turn on from dusk til dawn. And if your phone doesn't have this built in, look for a free app that'll do it for you. Also, my friend showed me this cool trick, which can turn the iPhone display completely red-tinted on command! And I swear it's been absolute favorite thing to use at night.

5. Get outside. Okay, this isn't a tip on how to reduce blue light, but it's important nonetheless. Exposing our bodies to blue light during the day is just as important as reducing it during the night. Support your body's natural system by getting out in the the sun for at least a few minutes ever day.

Welp, that's it. I know I've personally greatly benefitted from implementing some of these things in my life, so I hope this can help you too!

Sleep well,
Mel


(photo by Becca Tapert)
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