I will be the first to admit that my iPhone and laptop are staples in my life. I use both daily to keep up with my work, to connect to friends and family, to listen to podcasts, to meditate, and to get from place to place (what did we do before GPS?!)
Although there are many positives that come with our mobile devices there are also some negatives. One of the biggest ones is the fact that they are incredibly detrimental to our sleep.
In 2012, Harvard published that the blue light emitted by electronic devices and energy-efficient light bulbs put us at risk for serious health problems especially when we are exposed to them in the afternoon and evening. (1)
Blue wave light is actually beneficial during the day because it boosts focus, mood, and attention. This is exactly why they disturb our sleep so much because night time is when we are supposed to be winding down.
Your body naturally changes physically, mentally, and behaviorally in response to light (sunrise) and dark (sunset). This is called your circadian rhythms and they are biologically set to follow a roughly 24 hour cycle.
Exposure to artificial light at night, and especially blue wave light, upsets your circadian rhythms which can wreak havoc on your health. To give you an example, shift worker have been found to have a higher risk of certain types of cancer specifically because of their exposure to light at night. (2)
Artificial Light is Making You Sick
One reason artificial light exposure at night is so bad for you and your sleep is because it suppresses the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that helps to prepare your body for sleep. Research shows that when melatonin secretion is disrupted it can cause malignant growth. (2) Melatonin is also involved in the regulation of body temperature, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.
Harvard researchers have also found a link between light exposure at night and diabetes and obesity. When subject’s schedules were slowly shifted towards late night work their blood sugar levels increased while their leptin levels (the hormone that tells your brain you are full after you eat), decreased.
This is one of the reasons why we tend to crave sweets and overeat when we are sleep deprived.
Where Does Blue Light Come From
Any kind of light at night can disrupt your melatonin secretion; however, blue wave light suppresses it for about twice as long as other types of light.
Examples blue light sources are:
- LED light bulbs
- Computer monitors
- Cell phones
- Hand-held video games
- LED televisions
- LED digital clocks
What You Can Do
- Wear blue light blocking glasses (AKA blue blockers) at night.
A cheap hack: buy amber/orange tinted construction glasses at your local hardware store instead.
- Install f.lux on your computer.
F.lux is a free app that adjusts the lighting on your computer depending on the time of day.
- Switch out your night lights and night stand lamps with red light bulbs.
Red light has the least power to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin.”
- Avoid the electronics listed above at least 2-3 hours before bedtime.
This will help your body produce melatonin the way it is supposed to.
Before I go I want to point out that exposing yourself to bright light during the day is a great way to improve your mood and alertness. If you work in an office try to get outside in the sunshine for a few minutes whenever you can.
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Harvard Health Publications, (2012). Blue light has a dark side. Retrieved from: http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side
Costa, G., Haus, E., & Stevens, R. (2010). Shift work and cancer—considerations on rationale, mechanisms, and epidemiology. Scandinavian journal of work, environment & health, 163-179.