It’s easy in our current world to find ourselves staring into computer screen and our phones long into the night - but did you know this might be affecting your sleep? The result of this is a result of the blue light that is emitted from these devices, a color that is already naturally emitted from the sun. This isn’t a coincidence either - going back to 1992 engineers in Japan created the blue LED. This innovative concept helped manufacturers produce a full-spectrum of white LED light that allowed a significant cut back on energy costs. While the benefits of this blue spectrum light infused into our new electronics is considerable, there are some disadvantages as well - specifically in how this type of light can disrupt your sleeping patterns.
To understand how this type of light can mess up your sleep cycle, you first need to understand that the body has a natural circadian rhythm that is dependent on your body regulating hormones at certain times of the day. In the morning cortisol levels and body temperature increase based on sunlight - resulting in you becoming more awake and alert. As the sun starts to set and night sets in, the body naturally starts producing the chemical melatonin to make you sleepy. This comes from an area called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which interacts with your photoreceptors in your eye. Particularly blue light from the sun is the main mechanism for regulating cortisol and melatonin levels.
A body that has a proper circadian rhythm will also follow a sleep cycle. While it varies from person to person, this cycle last for approximately 90 minutes. Using brain scans researchers are able to look at different stages, with Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep being the most important.
According to the University of Toronto, blue light that comes off of LEDs and digital devices are impairing your sleeping habits. The reason for this is that the mind is tricked into thinking that it is still daylight out - blue shifted light is similar to sunlight in many ways. This is a result that blue light is naturally of a shorter wavelength, like a less intense version of ultraviolet radiation. This messes up your hormone levels - such as cortisol and melatonin - along with altering your brain waves by suppressing sleep inducing delta wavelengths and raising alerting alpha wavelengths.
These shorter wavelength even cause havoc even after you fall asleep. Because of the reduced melatonin production, you reduce the amount of REM sleep. REM sleep increases brain activity for a short amount of time, and is typically when dreams happen. Many researchers believe that this sleep is when the brain consolidates memories and is an important way to remember things. This deprivation of REM not only affects your memory and learning abilities either - indirectly a surplus of blue light late at night can cause an increased chance of neurological disorders like dementia.
The best thing you can do is to simply put down any electronic devices about an hour before you go to bed. For additional help you can download apps like f.lux and Twilight - both of which change the color of your screen depending on the time of the day. These apps work by slowly turning redder over the course of the day, syncing up with sunset and sunrise. If your circadian rhythm is really out of whack you can invest into over the counter sleep aids, such as melatonin.
Aside from these habit changes, there are also eyeglasses with a blue light filter that work great at fighting blue light damage. These types of glasses filter out the blue end of the spectrum, along with refracting different wavelengths to make images sharper. These glasses also typically have the ability to spread out the focal point of light so as not to tire out your retina - resulting in the same light hitting a wider spread of your eye rather than putting stress on specific spots.
Blue light isn’t all bad - high exposure of blue light during the day helps regulate your hormonal cycle. Sunlight itself is a great source of vitamin D, and the large amount of blue light it radiates can also increase serotonin. Blue light is also used to treat seasonal depression that often comes with winter. When finally incorporated into LEDs, it helped steadily bring down the price of manufacturing electronics.
Nonetheless, there are a set of negative side effects from the onslaught of artificial blue light in our lives. Constantly staring at computer or smart device screens can reduce the amount of melatonin you are supposed to be creating at night, resulting in a harder time getting to sleep and worse sleep quality. In order to reduce these issues you can employ a few habits, along with downloading some programs to regulate the light of your electronic devices. One of the best things you can do though is invest into a pair of computer glasses that block out blue light.
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