You can thank your phone, TV, computer, and power-saving light bulb for that.
There’s a reason why people feel cranky the day after a fitful night of sleep. We all suffer the occasional night episode of “not being able to sleep when we want to.” Unless you’re narcoleptic or have a superpower that allows you to sleep at will, you know the drill.
The lights are on while you stay up late using a gadget, and when you want to sleep, your body fails you. If you do get to nod off properly, the quality of your sleep sucks, and you’ll feel even more tired the next day. There goes your workout day!
What’s going on here? Why is sleep eluding you?
It’s All Because of Blue Light.
Blue light is all around us. Going outside and letting the sun hit you will give you a decent dose of it. Blue light is also abundant indoors. Light Emitting Diodes (LED) used in energy-saving light bulbs, TVs, computer monitors, and smartphones all emit blue light. Since blue light has a shorter wavelength than the other rays, it pumps out more energy, making it more efficient.
Blue light isn’t all bad. Our bodies absorb blue light through the eyes and skin, and we need to get exposed to it during the day to wake up. Daytime exposure to the blue wavelength boosts attention and reaction times, improves your mood, and wakes you up. There are even medical applications for blue light, including:
- Jaundice in babies. (1)
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). (2)
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder. (3)
- Jetlag. (4)
Plus, they’re designed to be energy-efficient to help save the planet. However, not all light wavelengths have the same negative effect on sleep as blue light does.
Blue Light Affects Your Circadian Rhythm.
One of the reasons why you find it hard to sleep at night after bingeing on GoT is because of all the blue light your body absorbed up until that point. Before the invention of electricity, the sun was the primary source of light. Candles and gas lamps provided illumination for homes, but everyone still lived in relative darkness.
The nights were very dark, and people enjoyed a somewhat predictable cycle. This cycle is our circadian rhythm or the biological clock that tells us when to sleep and when to wake up. This “clock” is a natural, internal process in all living beings that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. The circadian rhythm repeats every 24 hours.
The average length of a circadian rhythm is 24 and one-quarter hours, but it’s different for each person. Night owls have longer sleep-wake cycles than early birds. Daylight keeps our internal clock synchronized with the environment.
Exposure to Artificial Light at Night Disrupts this Precious Balancing Act.
You’re flooded with blue light throughout the day and most of the evening. Computer work, watching TV, and using your phone exposes you to blue light when you’re supposed to be winding down.
Your circadian rhythm gets messed up when your body doesn’t produce enough melatonin when it needs to. Melatonin is a hormone that tells your brain when it’s sleepy time, and blue light suppresses it like a brutal regime.
Your Confused Pineal Gland.
The pineal gland usually releases melatonin a few hours before you go to sleep, but blue light punks this pea-sized gland all the time. Blue light interferes with this process and makes you more alert as if it was daytime. It does this by stimulating a light sensor in the retina of the eye called the ipRGC. The “intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells” send lighting information to the circadian clock.
The info tells the body when it’s time to sleep or wake up. Too much exposure to blue light tricks your body into thinking the sun hasn’t gone down yet, disrupting your sleep-wake cycle. The ipRGC is so sensitive, a 2014 study found that people who read from a light-emitting gadget fell asleep longer than those who read a regular book.
The Problem With Blue Light.
The biggest issue with LEDs and even compact fluorescent lights (CFL) is the exclusion of violet, red and infrared light. These three are all present in natural sunlight, resulting in a healthier spectrum of light. Manufacturers leave these wavelengths out and increase the intensity of blue light instead.
The results have been brutal for everyone’s health and wellness.
The human body hasn’t evolved to handle the amount of blue light emitted by modern-day lights and electronics yet. Too much exposure to blue light affects not only the sleep cycle – it brings all sorts of health problems along for the ride, too.
The Health Hazards of Too Much Blue Light.
Researchers have established a link between too much blue light exposure and severe health problems. Your body’s cells have natural power generators called mitochondria. Cells need to work overtime to process blue light, thus producing a lot more energy. Painful and tired eyes from working all day in front of the computer? That’s your overworked mitochondria begging for rest.
When this happens, the mitochondria in all the cells of your body gets stressed out as well. The cascading of events causes inflammation throughout your entire body. Inflammation is bad news and increases the risk of more serious illnesses down the line.
Some of the severe health issues linked to blue light exposure are:
- Vision Loss.
Studies have shown that blue light damages the retina, leading to macular degeneration and vision loss.
- Diabetes and Obesity.
A study in 2016 found that blue light exposure during dinner time had detrimental effects on adults. Metabolism slowed down, insulin resistance increased, and adults had higher glucose levels versus adults who used dim light.
- Heart Disease.
There’s a link between heart disease and lack of sleep, because blue light disrupts regular sleeping patterns. Those who have a history of too little sleep have a higher chance of developing heart disease. Blue light is also associated with obesity, which can lead to heart issues.
The most alarming study is a direct link between blue light exposure and breast and prostate cancer. High levels of blue light exposure from street lights increased the risk of developing these types of cancer. Another study confirmed that a messed up biological clock increases the risk of getting other forms of cancer.
Protecting Yourself From Too Much Blue Light Exposure.
Now that you’re up to speed on the hazards of too much blue light exposure, it’s time to protect yourself.
- Get out and get some natural light. The bright light will boost your alertness level and put you in a better mood. Getting plenty of sunlight during the day will also help you sleep better at night.
- If you work the night shift, invest in black-out curtains to make your bedroom as dark as a cave when you get home. Use electrical tape and cover bright display LEDs from air conditioners or other appliances.
- Invest in a pair of blue light shielding eyewear. These glasses have an orange tint and are effective at blocking blue light coming off your computer, TV and other devices. You see gamers use this type of glasses all the time, and they know their stuff.
- If you don’t have access to anti-blue light eyewear, download and install apps that filter the blue-green wavelength in LED screens. Computers and smartphones have apps that give your screen an orange hue. Apple devices have Night Shift, while PCs and Android phones can use f.lux or Iris.
- Try not to use any electronic gadgets two to three hours before bedtime. Disconnect all your devices so you won’t get tempted to look at new messages that chime in.
- Use dim red lights for your night light, and get light bulbs that give off soft amber light for the rest of the rooms in your home.
Blue light is the nemesis of a good night’s sleep. The unfortunate byproduct of living in a digital world is that everything we use comes with an LED screen. Nights are also brighter, thanks to all the artificial lighting we all love to use. This love affair with electric light is killing us, and it’s because of our efforts to make more energy-efficient lighting options to help bring energy consumption down.
You can minimize your risk of too much blue light exposure by following the steps we outlined above. Remember, sleep is your body’s only time to recover. Without a good night’s sleep, your performance levels will drop, and you’ll be more prone to injuries.
If you have any ideas to share, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!