One of the primary conveniences of the last twenty years has been the increased access to information, connection and entertainment via the Internet on our computers, tablets, smartphones or other devices. However, scientists are learning that the light coming from the screens of these devices may impact our ability to sleep.
What is “Blue Light”?
Light emitted by most smartphones, tablet and other screens (including computer monitors and televisions) is within the blue spectrum and therefore often called blue light. This means it’s similar to the color and wavelength of daylight. Being exposed to sources of “artificial daylight” while watching TV in the evening or checking your phone late at night can have a significant impact on sleep quality.
Over many generations, our body has become acclimated to associating blue light with waking up in the morning and alertness throughout the day. As a result, exposure to blue light in the evening or overnight can confuse your body’s circadian rhythms, which are responsible for regulating sleep and wake cycles. Being exposed to blue light in the evening has been shown to reduce or inhibit the production of melatonin, a hormone critical for sleep function.
As a result, using these types of devices in the hours before bed can throw off sleep cycles, particularly when coupled with exciting or disturbing content such as a movie, news programs and other emotionally-charged materials.
Many e-readers for digital books use “E Ink” which doesn’t rely on backlighting and therefore may minimize the impact on sleep. However, these devices still require a light source, such as an LED book light to be visible in dark environments. This may diminish the benefits of an “E Ink” device, particularly if used in bed.
The newest version of the iPhone operating system incorporates specialized settings for evening and nighttime use that change the “temperature” of the light being emitted and therefore lowering the amount of blue light spectrum coming from the device. Microsoft is reportedly incorporating this into their operating systems for both mobile devices and laptop computers.
For users of both Apple and Microsoft desktop and laptop computers, Flux is a free option that automatically changes the color settings of the light being emitted from your computer screen to correspond with sunrise and sunset.
While many other potential products in the pipeline may be of use, it remains to be seen how effective these approaches are for reducing the negative impacts of exposure to blue spectrum light from digital screens.
Simply changing the color of the light only solves one part of the problem.
Reading, watching and listening to stimulating materials and content such as emails, social media posts and videos when you’re getting ready for bed may also excite your nervous system and interfere with sleep.
Consider limiting the use of your digital devices before bed. If you choose to read a book before bed, experts suggest reading in a chair or on the couch until you feel sleepy. Reserve your bed for sleep and intimacy.