Is Light Ruining Your Health?
What goes around comes around. Remember the old blue blockers commercials? Well, they are back and bigger than ever, but not for all the reasons they were in the 1980’s.
Blue light is everywhere, and when it hits the particles in the air it scatters and gives the sky its blue color. Your body uses blue light from the sun, or any light, to regulate your natural sleep and wake cycles or your circadian rhythm. The use of technology today, with all its light emitting, could be wreaking havoc on your health by disrupting your circadian rhythm.
The catch 22 here is that blue light also helps boost alertness, improve athletic performance, and elevate moods. Studies are showing that it can have effects similar if not more prominent than those of coffee. That’s an entire blog in and of itself, but it is worth noting.
Artificial sources of blue light include electronic devices such as cell phones and laptop computers, as well as energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs and LED lights. The problem is that all these blue light sources are telling your brain to wake up, it’s morning.
Blue light flickers, and this flickering has been shown to be the reasons for eyestrain, headaches, physical and mental fatigue caused by hours sitting in front of a computer screen or other electronic device. Our eyes do not filter blue light very well either, and excess exposure can lead to macular degeneration and other conditions leading to vision loss.
LED back-lit devices like computer screens, phones, tablets, and flat screen TVs emit very strong blue wavelengths of light. And because of this we are being exposed to more and more to this artificial light source.
There are cells in your retina that contain a photo pigment called melanopsin. Melanopsin signals cells in your eye that communicate with your brain regulating your sleep cycle. When light is present, normally during the daytime, melanopsin is telling your brain this and in turn your brain is telling your pineal gland to suppress the production of melatonin, your sleep hormone. When it gets dark, melanopsin is not produced lifting the suppression of melatonin, thus making you tired.
The problem lies in the fact that melanopsin is most sensitive to blue light. As nightfall progresses, light diminishes and melatonin steps in to tell our bodies to hit the sack and recover for the next day. But along come the devices blaring high intensity light at us, which contains a lot of blue light, and the sleep disturbance issues arise.
If your weight loss is stalled or never occurred, sleep can be the culprit.
Pregnancy has its issues as well. Mom’s breast milk will have less melatonin during the day as compared to nighttime. But, that can all get messed up for all the reasons discussed above. If the baby is not getting melatonin from mom that can very likely be the reasons for he or she not sleeping, and those cries at 2 am may be for melatonin.
The baby gets melatonin from mom while in the womb, obviously, and from breast milk for the first 9-12 weeks of age, until their pineal gland increases its endogenous melatonin production to near adult levels. You can see that mom has to be careful here as well. If mom is exposed to light after dark, she may not be producing melatonin to pass on to her baby. This can be an issue to look at if mom is having sleep problems with the baby, and she is pumping breast milk to use at night. Formula fed babies may be not be getting enough melatonin as well. This is just food for thought, not a recommendation to supplement mom or the baby with melatonin.
I just turned 51 years old, and I am as tied to my devices for work and pleasure as much as anyone, but probably not anywhere near the extent that my daughter’s generation is. That leads to the point behind this blog; you can deal with this very effectively without completely going dark and light in your life with sunset and sunrise. Here is how!
The number one thing you can and should do is to get plenty of natural sunlight during the day. That, too, is an entire blog for all the health benefits. I like to go out first thing in the morning to get the sunrise sun. It is rich in blue light and will help get your day going. The opposite is true for sunset. The red hues will start to put you into that sleep mode, if you don’t ruin it with all your devices’ light! As the sun sets, get outside, enjoy it and then head back in with your blue blockers on.
Some good home solutions are to not use lights, except maybe a flame, after dark, but that is impractical. An easy way to make changes is to block those blue rays as much as possible. I use blue blocking glasses at sunset all the way until after I turn my lights off for sleep. I use a brand from Uvex during the day at home (I am wearing now as I write this) and a more casual pair by Swanwick for my public venturing and nightlife.
You can use candles and limit light usage as an approach, but there are easier and safer ways especially for kids. You can get low emitting blue light bulbs, night lights, book lights, computer monitor screen filters, and iPad and iPhone screen filters. You can also make your own removable blue blocking screen for your computers with Velcro buttons and a blue blocking sheet like the ones from Rubylith.
F.lux is a piece of free downloadable software you can use to make the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night, and like sunlight during the day. F.lux makes your computer’s display look like the room that it is in. When the sunsets, it makes your computer look like indoor lights. In the morning, it makes it look like sunlight again. This in combination with glasses is an awesome blue blocking combo.
For kids, you can use amber colored night-lights and those little flame LED tea lights as a night-light, which they can carry through the house if they need to get to the bathroom or to find mom and dad.
Lastly, I want to give you a way to test if your blue blocking glasses and screen protectors are effective. Below you will see two spectrums of light. The top one is normal with no filtering occurring. Note you can see the color blue on the left part of the spectrum. The lower one has been altered to show you what the top normal spectrum should look like if your filters are truly removing the blue light. Save this image to your phone and you can have it with you to test products and to be sure you are getting the protection you are seeking.
Until next time, sport those blue blockers when the sun goes down and to minimize the eye fatigue from your devices’ screens!
For fun here is the actual 1980's Blue Blockers commercial.
1. Czeisler CA, Shanahan TL, Klerman EB, Martens H, Brotman DJ, Emens JS, Klein T, Rizzo JF (Jan 1995). "Suppression of melatonin secretion in some blind patients by exposure to bright light". The New England Journal of Medicine. 332(1): 6–11. :10.1056/NEJM199501053320102. PMID 7990870.