What Is Blue Light?
First off, light is made up of electromagnetic particles that travel in waves, producing energy and ranging in lengths and strengths; the shorter the wavelength, the higher the energy. Wavelengths are represented by different colors and grouped into different categories, including gamma rays, x-rays, ultraviolet (UV) rays, visible light, infrared light, and radio waves, ultimately making up an electromagnetic spectrum. Interestingly, apart of the whole spectrum, the human eye is only sensitive to one part: visible light. Visible light allows the human eye to see blue skies, red roses, and green grass. When it comes to blue light, it bares a very short wavelength, thus producing a high amount of energy. And while blue light can be found in the natural atmosphere, it is mostly acknowledged for its lighting in electronics.
How Can Blue Light Affect Your Sleep?
The wavelength of blue light influences sleep patterns by regulating the body’s natural sleep and wake cycle, also known as circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm syncs with the 24-hour day, matching sleep and wake patterns to the natural environment with the assistance of melatonin. Also known as the “sleep hormone,” melatonin helps control the circadian rhythm and can be influenced by light exposure or lack thereof. Under normal and natural conditions, the pineal gland in the brain begins releasing melatonin a couple of hours prior to bedtime, reaching its peak in the middle of the night, and dropping in the early morning hours.
While blue lighting from the atmosphere promotes healthy sleep cycles in conjunction with the body’s internal clock, the artificial light emitted from electronic devices, fluorescent bulbs, and LED lights pose significant concern. And with the American population spending more than half their day plugged into some sort of electronic device, not only are the risks of eyestrain, headaches, and physical and mental health increased, but the worry of sleep deprivation. (Not-so-surprisingly, the average American sleeps six hours each night, falling shy of the seven to nine-hour recommendation set by the National Sleep Foundation…) And according to the National Sleep Foundation, “the blue light emitted from these screens can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin, increase alertness, and reset the body’s internal clock (or circadian rhythm) to a later schedule.”
Fighting the Blues
To diminish the risk of disrupted circadian rhythms and sleep cycles, the following tips may deter the risks of blue light and nurture a good night’s sleep:
Use Red and Dim Lighting
Red light may be the best color light for sleep, as it has a marginal ability to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin. Switching over to the “Night Shift” setting and dimming the light on your phone or reading tablet is advised, but swapping over to a paperbound book is encouraged even further.
Reduce Time on Electronic Devices
At all costs, avoid looking at bright screens at least two to three hours leading up to bedtime. Furthermore, both mental and physical health can benefit from reducing time on electronics and trying a digital detox. So disconnect from your cellphone or laptop and plug into other activities, including cooking with the family, reading a book, or heading to the gym!
Expose yourself to natural, bright lighting during the day. Not only can it help enhance the ability to sleep come nightfall, but improve mood and alertness during daylight. Enjoy the great outdoors by walking the dog in the morning, taking a walk at lunch, and hiking in nature on the weekends.