If you haven’t heard already, blue light may be affecting more than just your sleep patterns. It may be contributing to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.
This is the latest from Harvard Health Publishing, who recently updated their article about the hazards of that wonderful blue light that is so prolific in our everyday lives. Blue light is found in fluorescent and LED lights as well as those computer, TV and cell phone screens that we stare at all day long. But don’t abandon your 21st-century lifestyle and go live in the woods just yet: blue light during the day isn’t the problem. In fact, it increases our attention and elevates our mood from dawn to dusk.
For blue light, it’s all about timing. When we are exposed to blue light at a time when our body is ready to wind down, it is known to disrupt the body’s biological clock, also known as the circadian rhythm, so that it doesn’t function properly. Disrupting the circadian rhythm means less restful sleep. Less restful sleep means decreased melatonin production. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland that has been shown to be a potent antioxidant and support immune function. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “exposure to light suppresses the secretion of melatonin, and there’s some experimental evidence (it’s very preliminary) that lower melatonin levels might explain the association with cancer.” It goes on to cite another study conducted by Harvard that showed that 10 people whose circadian rhythms were gradually changed over time had two things happen. First, their blood sugar levels increased, putting them into a prediabetic state. Second, their levels of leptin, a natural hormone which gives the feeling of satiety, went down.
The problem with blue light becomes worse when looking at children, who are still developing and need more sleep than average adults. As their circadian rhythms are disrupted, it can interfere with the sleep recommended by the National Sleep Foundation for healthy children: 9-11 hours for school-age children and 8-10 hours for teens.
So, how can you get your circadian rhythm back on track? There are many solutions recommended by experts, the cheapest of which may be the hardest: eliminate “screen time” 2-3 hours before you go to bed. For many people, this may seem impossible or even heresy. For those that can’t bear to disconnect, computers and phones have screens that you can purchase that filter out the harsher blue and green lights for calmer yellows and reds. There are also programs and apps that you can use that automatically filter the colors to reds and yellows starting at sunset to gradually get your body ready for bed. You can also buy goggles that filter the blue for a nice red, though they can run pricey for a good pair ($80). Finally, swap those blue LED or phosphorescent night lights for less disruptive red ones. That’s right, put on the red light. In fact, you’ll get better sleep.