What is blue light?
All colors of light do not have the same effect. Blue wavelengths that are beneficial throughout the day because they stimulate attention, reaction time, and mood are the most disrupted during the night. Besides, the proliferation of electronics with screens and energy-efficient lighting increases our exposure to blue wavelengths, especially after sunset.
There has been a relationship that exists between light and sleep patterns. Also, the way light impacts the circadian rhythm of an individual. This is often called the circadian clock or internal clock; this explains the brain’s cycles via sleepiness and alertness throughout the day at regular intervals.
Generally, these cycles imitate the clock and change according to the time of the day. Sunrise and sunset significantly affect your daily rhythm, depending on how much sunlight reaches your eyes. It triggers the release of a hormone called melatonin.
The regulation of the level of melatonin is a duty performed by the pineal gland, which works according to your body’s circadian rhythm. When the sunlight fades, there will be an increase in the level of production of melatonin in your body. The melatonin levels are at their peak in the middle of the night when you sleep and start falling as the morning approaches.
Studies have shown that bright light, mostly blue light emitted by electronic devices, delayed the production of melatonin. It is said that this artificial light or “blue light” mimics the sunlight and can affect your sleep cycle if there is exposure before bedtime.
Sunlight or blue light causes the brain to delay melatonin production because your body combines light with daylight. This counterbalances your sleep patterns and awakens your body to a state of alert. The pineal gland will be slow during melatonin production.
Light and Sleep
Every one of us has a different circadian rhythm, but the average duration is 24.5 hours. An exception is the people that stay up late in the night as they tend to have a longer circadian rhythm. In contrast, the rhythms of people that sleep earlier are reduced below 24 hours. Based on the research done by Dr. Charles Czeisler of Harvard Medical in 1981, it was revealed that daylight keeps an individual’s internal clock aligned with the environment.
Effects of Blue LEDs on Sleep
Lighting has been maneuvered by fluorescent lamps and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). This is because they are more efficient and have been found to provide better lighting than incandescent bulbs. They were found in everything from task lighting to TV to smartphones.
However, these bulbs are helpful in so many ways. At the same time, they may negatively affect sleep.
The Problem with Artificial Light
Any artificial light, including LEDs, fluorescent lamps, and incandescent bulbs, can affect an individual’s normal sleep patterns. The body’s biological clock is affected by the amount of light and darkness the body is exposed to.
Any artificial light, including LEDs, fluorescent lamps, and incandescent bulbs, can affect an individual’s normal sleep patterns. This is referred to as the circadian rhythm.
The circadian rhythm regulates the timing of numerous physiological processes. Physiological activities include sleeping and feeding habits, the brain’s activity, hormone production rate, and cell regeneration.
The retina detects the light, which then sends signals to the hypothalamus. When it’s getting dark outside, the hypothalamus signals the body to produce sleep hormones. That process produces melatonin and reduces body temperature to prepare the body for sleep.
In the morning, when there is exposure to light, the body is notified about getting up and producing hormones such as cortisol responsible for the waking up process of the body. When artificial light is added to an individual’s day, this confuses the body’s natural rhythm. The retina can now receive light irrespective of the time of the day.
The exact time to prepare for sleep is not known by the body. The study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism revealed that when compared with dim light, exposure to room light during the night decreases melatonin by about 85% during the test.
Blue Light and Sleep Patterns
Fluorescent and LED bulbs create a dual problem in sleep. First, they produce artificial light, and secondly, they have a blue light. According to Harvard Medical School, the wavelengths of blue light produced by electronics and overhead lights encourage attention, reaction time, and mood.
This can be great for a day when the body needs to be careful, but it can become a problem at night.
Studies have shown that exposure to blue light inhibits melatonin production more than any other type of light. It is believed that shorter wavelengths of blue light cause melatonin production because it is more sensitive to this type of light.
“In terms of light and our brain, there is a wide range of wavelengths that affect the human circadian system,” said David Earnest, a professor and circadian rhythm specialist at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine. “The most sensitive side of the spectrums is the blue light.”
Studies carried out at the University of Toronto revealed that people who put on blue-blocking glasses produce more melatonin than those who did not wear them during night shifts. Other studies have shown that blue wavelengths suppress delta brain waves that stimulate sleep and enhance alpha wavelengths that generate vigilance.
Solutions to Blue Light Sleep Problems
“In order to avoid sleeping problems, avoid exposure to blue light 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime, which means there are no TVs, tablets, computers, or smartphones,” said Dr. Robert Oexman, the director of the Sleep to Live Institute. “Ideally, you want your environment to be dimly lit so that your body can naturally produce the sleeping hormone called melatonin.”
Andrew Simon, a naturopathic physician at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health has proposed that replacing all overhead lights with full-spectrum may help boost the natural sleep/wake cycle. If these steps are not possible, some of those helpful things include the use of dimming devices and putting on blue light filtering glasses.
Here are some ways you can hack your sleep and the junk light.
- Blue light glasses that I personally use and recommend. Plus, they make you look cool 🙂 These are great to wear during the day indoors if you work at a place that is not green and has LED lights when you are surrounded by junk light all around you.
- Download free f.lux on your computer which will take away the blue light coming off from the screen.
- If you are really having trouble sleeping and feeling a little daring then add the red glasses to your collection and wear them 1-2 hours before you are ready to go to bed. Do not drive while wearing these or do anything important.
- iPhone had an option to decrease blue light by using the night shift option. Read here.