Though we generally don't think too much about the color of light, knowing a bit about it can help us understand the effects it might be having on our sleep. While the sun and moon provide natural light for our world, most of us spend a great deal of time under artificial lights. And not all artificial light sources are created equally.
What Is Blue Light?
Perhaps you've noticed that different types of artificial light sources have different qualities. That's because not all colors of light have the same properties. While yellow light bathes everything in a soft glow, white lights can create a crisp and clean feel.
Blue wavelengths, however, have a different effect. Blue wavelengths have been shown to boost attention, heighten reaction times, and elevate the moods of those exposed to them. While these are good results during daytime hours, exposure to blue light can have a disastrous impact on getting a good night's sleep.
Does Blue Light Keep You Awake?
Exposure to any light in general typically dampens the body's secretion of melatonin. This is one of the reasons why many of us feel less tired when it's bright outside but grow increasingly sleepy when the sun sets. Of course, our body's circadian rhythm helps out with this dynamic, but light exposure actually does much of the heavy lifting when it comes to our wake/sleep cycle.
This is where blue light comes in.
While light of any kind can suppress the secretion of melatonin, blue light at night does so more powerfully. Harvard researchers and their colleagues conducted an experiment comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light to exposure to green light of comparable brightness. The blue light suppresses melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much. (Harvard Health)
As you can imagine, prolonged exposure to blue light, particularly at night, can have a strong influence on how easily we're able to fall asleep and/or stay asleep.
Is Blue Light Bad?
While blue light isn't necessarily bad for you in general, it's been shown to disrupt your body's natural sleep-wake cycle. In addition, some researchers have linked blue light to increased risks of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
When we can, it's a good idea to limit our exposure to blue light.
Managing Blue Light Exposure
Most people get the majority of their blue-light exposure from their electronic devices.
- Desktop monitors
- Game systems
Though the simplest way to cut down on blue-light exposure would be to limit screen time, many people (particularly those who work from home or conduct much of their business on screens) may find that task challenging.
If you're not able to cut back on screen time, you can make progress in cutting back on blue light exposure by dimming the brightness on your screens and by investing in a pair of quality blue-light-blocking glasses. Many smartphones and tablets also have a function that decreases or filters blue light to spare your eyes. If yours doesn't, you can always download an app to help.
If you've been asking "How does blue light before bed hurt sleep?" The answer is simple: it decreases your body's production of the hormone melatonin, which is associated with the body's natural sleep-wake rhythms.
Cutting back on blue light exposure can help you enjoy more steady and consistent sleep.
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