Our love affair with our devices is so pervasive that there are even memes about looking at our phones in bed. And catching up with everyone on social media can be a tempting way to clock off for the night. But there’s a worrying cost to our 21st-century obsession with staying connected 24/7. There have been many studies verifying the link between exposure to blue light and the suppression of melatonin, a hormone that is crucial for helping us fall asleep.
Your circadian rhythm is like an internal, biological timetable that affects a range of bodily functions, including wakefulness, hunger, and your body’s self-repair cycle. Evolution has tuned your body to rely on information from the environment to keep this rhythm in sync with optimal times during the day when it is best for you to be alert on the lookout for risks and opportunities-and when it is time to rest and digest.
During daylight hours, sunlight suppresses the production of melatonin, known as the sleep hormone. In this regard, we are most sensitive to wavelengths of light in the band of 459-480nm (nanometres), which correspond to the blue end of the spectrum. The reason why we feel awake and alert during daytime is that blue wavelengths form a major part of sunlight’s visible spectrum. By default, high-strength LEDs (light-emitting diodes) emit light that falls right within this range, but ‘white’ ones have a yellow filter on the light-emitting semiconductor that tricks our eyes into seeing the light coming from them as white.
This LED technology is used to power much of the artificial lighting in our homes-ranging from downlights to retrofit LED tubes that can be retrofitted as strip lighting as well as many of the screens in our homes. Many ambient lights that use CFL (compact fluorescent light) fittings also emit daylight-spectrum frequencies, which are great for working spaces such as laundries or kitchens. But a better choice for living areas is CFLs labeled ‘warm white’, which filter out much of the blue end of the spectrum and emit a softer, more candle-colored hue instead.
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Regardless of where the bluish glow is coming from, the net effect is that it’s stalling our internal timetable, and keeping us wired and alert at a time when we should be growing drowsy and feeling naturally tired. The simplest solution is not to use TVs, laptops, and other devices with backlit screens for two hours before bedtime. But where’s the fun in that? As an alternative, follow these easy tips for reducing the effects of blue light, and you will be more likely to drift off to sleep more swiftly and easily.
If you’re finding it difficult to fall asleep at night, it’s quite possible that blue light is a factor. Reducing its effects is an essential part of helping you drift off into a peaceful slumber, but it won’t fix everything. If you are going to use devices before bedtime, it is preferable to use your devices for activities that calm you down, rather than rev you up. Opt for playing sudoku, looking at nature pins or reading a blog rather than watching trailers for horror movies or getting into political debates on Twitter.
Try these easy tips to improve your sleep and you can enjoy the best of both worlds. If you’re smart about it, you can still wind down with the devices you love, and then slip peacefully out of evening’s harbor when it’s time to set sail for the land of dreams.