Alaska Sleep Education Center

Blue Light Has a Dark Side

Posted by Stefanie Leiter

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on Nov 14, 2019 5:30:00 AM

This blue light affects the boy's quality sleep.

We think of all the rituals at bedtime from yoga, essential oils, and sound machines when sometimes the one issue stems from American’s largest addiction: digital devices.

With 71 percent of Americans sleeping with their phone in bed or on the nightstand, the blue light from the screens can emit unneeded light that prevents our brains from shutting down. But we should also not be confused with eliminating blue light altogether. Light therapy treats seasonal affective disorder (SAD) uses blue light.

Ever wonder what makes the sky blue? It is blue light from the atmosphere and comes in a natural, non-harmful way. According to Blue Light Exposed, “when outside, light from the sun travels through the atmosphere. The shorter, high energy blue wavelengths collide with the air molecules causing blue light to scatter everywhere.”

In fact, we use this blue light from the sun daily to help regulate our natural sleep and wake cycles called the circadian rhythm.

What else does blue light help?

  • Boost alertness
  • Elevate moods
  • Heighten reaction times
  • Increase well being

On the other side of the coin, blue light electronically is exposed through cell phones, laptop computers, energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs, and LED lights. One of the top concerns is digital eye strain.

“Because short-wavelength, high energy blue light scatters more easily than other visible light, it is not as easily focused. When you're looking at computer screens and other digital devices that emit significant amounts of blue light, this unfocused visual ‘noise’ reduces contrast and can contribute to digital eye strain.”

The flickering of the shorter blue light wavelengths causes glare that can “reduce visual contrast and affect sharpness and clarity.” Eyeglasses are not the best prescription either to help with digital eye strain. Instead, computer eyeglasses that contain yellow-tinted lenses may decrease headaches and mental fatigue while working extended periods of time online.

Many studies on blue light can be found online including in the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. “If the blue light is excessive, especially at night when melatonin production peaks, it can not only damage the retina through the ocular surface, but can also stimulate the brain, inhibit melatonin secretion, and increase corticosteroid production, thereby destroying hormonal secretion and directly affecting sleep quality.”

To lessen the blue light and increase your quality of rest, the Journal of the National Sleep Foundation indicates the following as quality restful nights:

  • Sleeping more time while in bed (at least 85 percent of the total time).
  • Falling asleep in 30 minutes or less.
  • Waking up no more than once per night.
  • Being awake for 20 minutes or less after initially falling asleep.

With the addictive nature of a cell phone, here are some questions to ask yourself if you consider the cell phone to be a huge distraction to your sleep quality.

Think back to the last time you fell asleep without your cell phone in bed. It may be too long to remember, but exposure to the blue light from screens before bed leads to drowsiness even with a full eight hours in bed. Studies show emittance of the blue light “prevents our brains from releasing melatonin, a hormone that tells our bodies it's nighttime.”

image of businesswoman touching screen with finger

Plug your phone across the room; this can also help with hitting snooze too many times in the morning. Giving up the phone for an hour before bedtime will help distract your brain from the light. I am not suggesting you keep your phone at 5 percent life but don’t charge your phone next to your bed; otherwise, you will be tempted to get on your phone in bed.

Natural sunlight combined with exercise helps balance your circadian rhythm. It also increases your daytime energy and sleeps quality. With people suffering from insomnia, exposure to natural light falls asleep faster.

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 by clicking the link below 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.

 Download Self Referral Form

Topics: technology, bedtime, get better sleep, blue light screen

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