Blue light has become a subject of interest for medical professionals, scientists and the general public. There is an ongoing discussion to decide how it's harmful and how it affects our sleep. Below, we'll walk through the effect artificial light has on our lives, the importance of quality sleep, and how blue light could interfere with both your nightly snooze and your health.
Sleep Is Critical
A fundamental part of everyone’s survival is sleeping. Whether you're a rock star, the president, an athlete, or an ordinary person, no individual can sacrifice sleep without feeling the burden that comes with it. Many of us are familiar with our bodies becoming tired and forcing us to sleep. Whether you're driving, at work, or casually food shopping, if your body wants and needs its rest, your eyelids will drop.
Furthermore, your sleep is vital to improve your concentration, prevent weight gain, increase athletic performance, reduce heart disease risk, and inflammation in the body, and much more. For instance, according to each night, you should be careful about what mattress you invest in, as budget-friendly mattresses are more likely to deteriorate quickly, which could misalign the spine and intensify back pain. Other recommendations include cutting down on caffeine and exercising during the day.
Before the invention of the light bulb in 1879 by Thomas Edison, people relied on the sun upon to set their sleep and wake cycles. However, with the introduction of cheap electricity, people could continue the work they were unable to complete in daylight hours. For instance, electric lighting was, and still is, particularly beneficial for factories where employees are required to work through the evening. The appreciation of electric light expanded worldwide, with major cities illuminated with lighting throughout the evening.
Following the invention of electric lighting, most cities became the "city that never sleeps". From entrepreneurs working through the night on their new startup to college students staying up to finish their assignments. And so for many people across the world, nighttime has become the second part of the day to get things. Because of this, a lot of people tend to cut their sleeping schedule short and rely on caffeine to get them through the following day. Nevertheless, this isn't the only issue artificial light brings to your life.
Between smartphones, computer monitors, TVs, and tablets, excessive screen time is the new normal. Studies show that the average American looks at their phone 46 times every day and spends 11 hours per day on gadgets.  That behavior disrupts our quality of sleep, which in turn negatively impacts our circadian rhythm — our internal clocks that regulate “behavior, hormone levels, sleep, body temperature, and metabolism,” according to the Nobel Prize recipients.
Nursing@Georgetown created an info-graphic to illustrate why it’s important to reduce your screen time before going to sleep.
The Risks of Blue Light
It's not just any light that interferes with people's sleep. According to medical professionals and scientists, blue light is the main culprit. Manufacturers increasingly turn to LED lighting that emits blue light because of its energy-efficient properties as it grants more light with less heat. Thus the majority of products today, such as mobile phones, use blue lighting and so the rise of blue light in people's lives continues. According to Harvey Medical School, blue light has a dark side that negatively impacts the circadian rhythm; long-term repeat exposure can pose health risks such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. However, exposure to blue light is only harmful at night when your body needs to sleep.
Blue Light During The Day
Our eyes are receptive to the short blue light waves exhibited from the sun that reflect and bounce around the molecules of the earth; this leads to the sky appearing blue. During the daytime, our circadian rhythms are sensitive to this form of light and let us know it's daytime, and our bodily processes adjust to reflect the change in light. However, at night time, our brains need the darkness to know when it's time to wind down and fall asleep. When your eyes experience the dark, your pineal gland produces the hormone melatonin to help your body sleep.
However, if your eyes are exposed to blue LED at night, the light-sensitive receptors in your eyes detect blue light, and this pauses the production of melatonin. Decreased melatonin affects your ability to fall asleep preventing you from your night of peaceful slumber. The unnatural process of blue LED light which shapes your circadian rhythm is what leads to an imbalance with your bodily functions. This is because your circadian rhythm monitors and is responsible for triggering essential bodily functions. From your temperature, appetite, mood, energy levels, and even the amount of urine you produce. Thus tampering with your body's natural regime causes an imbalance in your system that can lead to serious health problems.
It can be surprisingly difficult to pull your attention away from a screen at night. Sleep experts suggest switching off any electronics at least one hour before you intend to sleep. This short period, away from the visual stimulation, better prepares you for rest.
In addition to blue light stimulation, there are other environmental factors that hinder a good night’s rest. For instance, the US National Sleep Foundation recommends adults sleep for at least 7 to 9 hours a night. Furthermore, as mentioned above, a luxury mattress accustomed to your weight, height, and needs can facilitate a restful night. Without realizing it, many people will sleep on mattresses that hinder their body’s recovery instead of supporting it.
Artificial lighting is one of the riding culprits alongside caffeine, stress, chronic pain, and diet that can impair your sleep health. Factoring in the above recommendations can enable you to gain a restful, quality night’s sleep every night. So that whatever the day might bring you, you can sleep peacefully and feel refreshed and revitalized the following day. And more importantly, you can create a healthy distance between yourself and any poor health conditions associated with exposure to blue light at night time.
Keeping a Sleep Journal
It is important to not ignore any sleep quality issues. Before meeting with your physician, start keeping track of any changes through a sleep journal. Tracking your sleep patterns and routines at bedtime will be a big asset to start expert help. Download our free sleep journal.
If you have never kept a sleep journal, start simple:
- Wake up and bedtime
- The last time and meal you last ate
- The season and room temperature
- How tired you were at work
- The last drink you took (water, caffeine)
- Any medications you took
- Time of day and amount of exercise during the day
If you live in Alaska and want to see if a sleep study is right for you, contact The Alaska Sleep Clinic for a free 10-minute phone call with a sleep educator who can help determine if a sleep study is necessary or if a consultation with our sleep specialist needs to be scheduled .