Do you read on your phone before bed? Watch videos, scroll through Facebook or play games? So many of us plug in at night and then lay back and unwind while scrolling our phones. But are you really relaxing? What’s the connection between blue light and sleep? Are your nighttime habits interrupting your zzzzzs?
And does that really matter? You’d better believe it.
First though, what is blue light anyways?
What is Blue Light?
Blue light is a color on the visible light spectrum that can be seen by human eyes. Sunlight is the main source of blue light, and being outdoors during the day is where most of us get the greatest exposure to it. This blue light from the sun is natural blue light, and it’s actually what makes the sky blue (yes! now you have the answer).
There’s also artificial blue light all around us. It’s in our televisions, smartphones, laptops, and LED and fluorescent lighting.
Blue light is a short wavelength. This means it produces higher amounts of energy.
And this thing is, with the blue light all around us, it’s not always so great for our health.
Blue Light and Sleep: The Connection
Each of us have an internal clock, and that clock regulates something called your circadian rhythm. This is a 24-hour biological cycle that influences many internal functions, most importantly when your brain thinks it’s time to sleep or be awake.
Your circadian rhythm takes cues from your environment – for example light and darkness – to send those signals to your brain. And blue light plays a major role here.
For example, blue light from the sun tells your brain to stay awake and alert. And that’s great. It energizes you when you want it to. It can also boost your mood! Research shows us that blue light therapy devices have been shown to help treat depression. And blue light bulbs can also reduce fatigue and improve the mood, performance, and sleep of office workers.
The thing is, blue light at night can send your brain mixed signals. Instead of getting in bed and relaxing, blue light from the television, your laptop, or your phone, send those same signals to that the sun does – “Stay awake, stay alert!”
This has to do with a hormone called melatonin. When it gets dark, your body releases melatonin which makes you sleepy. Blue light actually inhibits the production of melatonin, so your body gets confused. This negatively impacts both how much and how well you sleep.
When your circadian rhythm is in sync, your sleep is improved. But when blue light throws things out of whack you might find yourself counting sheep well into the night.
How to Block those Blue Hues
So, what can you do to keep your exposure in line?
Firstly, get outside and soak up the sun during the day. This helps regulate your circadian rhythm and inhibit melatonin production during the day, when you want to be awake and alert.
Then, at night, limit it as much as possible. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Get some amber tinted glasses – they block out all blue light – to use when the sun goes down.
- Turn off all the lights in your home a few hours before going to bed.
- If you use your computer or smartphone at night, consider an app or program that adjusts the color and brightness of your screen based on your timezone.
- Get a red or orange reading lamp, which doesn’t emit blue light.
- Consider blackout curtains or a sleep mask so you have complete darkness at night.