Benefits of Blocking Blue Light
Many of us didn’t grow up with the current technology we enjoy today, and have had to learn to adapt to it over time. As research is catching up with the effects of modern technology, we are learning ways that it can impact our health- for better or for worse. Sometimes a few small tweaks is all we need to safely use technology for our advantage.
The light that is emitted from screens- smartphones, laptops, tablets, television, is called blue light. We now know that this blue light is a huge disruptor of sleep and our circadian rhythms- the 24 hour cycle that governs our wake and sleep cycles. A poll from the National Sleep Foundation found that 90% of Americans report using an electronic device in their bedroom within an hour of trying to fall asleep. Not surprisingly, trouble sleeping is one of the top reasons people seek relief and see their doctors for. Oftentimes, the solution is simply to regulate the things that have an effect on these natural sleep and wake cycles before resorting to medication options. A common over the counter medication that people take to sleep (Benadryl, and the active ingredient in many over the counter sleep medicines) has been found to increase risk of dementia after long term use, as explained by the Mayo Clinic. Even prescription sleep medications can become something we require to fall asleep at all, and oftentimes leads to needing more and more over time. Although sometimes these medications are needed, many people can eliminate or significantly reduce their need for them by blocking blue light.
Our brains interpret light and darkness as when we should be awake and when we should go to sleep. Because blue light so closely resembles sunlight, our brains biologically get the message that it is time to be awake and will suppress melatonin, a natural hormone produced in our bodies to help us fall asleep, so that we don’t feel tired and have trouble winding down. It has also been found that when you do eventually fall asleep, your sleep quality is significantly impacted and less restful. I like to think of blue light exposure as having a cup of coffee before bed. Chances are, you will not sleep well that night.
How to Block Blue Light
- One of my favorite ways to do this is to wear blue light blocking glasses from sundown to bed. These work best when the lenses are orange in color. You may look silly, but many people (including myself) report a much easier time falling asleep. You can wear these glasses as you watch television or other screen activities in the evening and it will help mitigate the blue light exposure and subsequent effects on your sleep that night.
- Turn off all electronics at least 1 hour before bed. This can be really challenging if you use your phone to unwind and fall asleep (as the sleep study referenced earlier that 90% of us do). This may be difficult at first and a bit of a learning curve, but part of this process may be relearning to wind down for bed without the use of our phones.
- Do relaxing activities offline and screen free. Creating an evening wind down routine practicing such rituals is part of what helps signal to our brains that it’s time for sleep. Think of the bedtime routine you implement for your children or grandchildren and start one for yourself. This can be anything that relaxes you or brings you comfort. Some of my favorite practices are taking an Epsom salt bath, washing my face and brushing my teeth, taking a magnesium supplement to aid in relaxation, reading an actual paper book, journaling, and practicing meditation, breath work, and body scans to relax your nervous system and help you drift off to sleep more easily.
- Monitor any light in your room at night. Any light exposure, no matter how small, can and will have an impact on your sleep. Ideally in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have any electronics in our rooms, including televisions. Even when turned off, the small light that many devices emit is enough to disrupt your sleep. You can use a piece of black electrical tape over small lights on devices you can’t easily remove, like your television. I also love using black out curtains and a sleep eye mask to create a black out effect in my room.
- Conversely, use sunlight in the morning to help your body wake up- because remember, light is stimulating. We just need to use it ideally in its natural form as early in the day as possible. The combination of getting direct sunlight exposure within 30 minutes of waking in addition to reducing light at night does wonders for regulating sleep. Increasing sunlight exposure during the day in a general sense helps signal to your brain when to be awake and when to wind down. Watching the sunrise and sunset are wonderful practices for this very reason.
If you are someone who struggles with sleep, you are not alone. No matter what the issue is, improving sleep hygiene, such as managing blue light exposure, will only help your situation. As always, speak to your doctor about any sleep issues you may be experiencing. There is no shame in medication when needed, but adding in a few simple light exposure practices into your daily routine will increase its efficacy more than doing nothing at all. Sweet dreams!