Effects of blue light on sleep

Studies have shown that almost half of the British population fail to get enough sleep on a regular basis, and that those aged between 35 and 44 are getting the least. In a period where so many of us are determined to get fit, and live healthier lifestyles, it’s surprising to find that so few of us realise the importance of a proper sleep pattern. Or, perhaps we do realise the importance of it, but struggle to maintain a healthy sleep routine, for various reasons.

In a world where tech dominates, and almost no home is without an internet connection and an assortment of gadgets, it’s interesting to see that so few us are aware of the effects that technology can have on our sleep, and therefore ultimately, our health. A lack of sleep can not only effect us mentally well being and production levels, but poor sleeping habits can lead to plenty of physical issues as well.

Up until a few generations ago, people would have had little issue getting to sleep on a night. Sources of unnatural light were scarce once the sun set, save perhaps for a gas light or candle. Yet, here were are now, staring at brightly lit screens just a few inches from our eyes. Even the so-called technophobes among us are guilty of spending too much time looking at artificial light sources, now that smartphones and devices such as iPads are commonplace. There is a real smartphone sleep crisis, with over 80 per cent of smartphone owners using their phone within an hour of going to bed. And that’s before we take into consideration the amount of time we spend glued to our television screens.

Therefore, one may ask whether spending less time in front of ‘blue light’, could go at least some way to tackling our health problems, such as obesity, which many studies have shown can be directly linked to a poor sleep pattern.

Health professionals and medical researchers frequently tell us that a large percentage of the world’s population are chronically sleep deprived. This creates a number of problems for us, from memory less to hormone levels to our immune system and muscle repair, and even our body fat levels. Therefore, it’s a subject that needs far more attention.

We’ve all tried various methods and ways of getting more sleep, or even ways to avoid disturbances during the night. Yet, we all know how difficult it can be, and we’re all familiar with the feeling of waking up still drained and groggy the following morning. From herbal teas to meditation, and even medication, there are plenty of things one can do when trying to fall asleep. But, what is it that’s really the cause of our sleep deprivation?

A number of forward-thinking scientists are now researching how the light that’s produced by technology is having an impact on our sleep. Light, simply put, is essentially the colours that we see that allows our eyes and brain to create an image to allow us to see what’s going on in the world around us. However, there are far more colours than just the ones that we can actually see. The colours of the rainbow are familiar to us all, but beyond those, there are numerous other colours on the electromagnetic spectrum that we’re unable to observe with our bare eyes. Think of it as being like a high pitch whistle a dog can hear but we can’t. They exist, even if we aren’t aware of it. And, many forms of technology give off these colours, even if we are unable to see them.

And it’s these colours that can really have an impact on our sleep. Our circadian rhythm, as it’s known, is essentially our own internal clock which helps regulate our sleeping patterns. Although our circadian rhythm differs slightly from person to person, it’s usually just over 24-hours, on average. Those who stay up late will have slightly longer circadian rhythms, whilst those who are early risers will have shorter ones. The cycle helps us regulate our bodies, hormones and temperatures, and is crucial in aiding us to sleep to as regular a sleep cycle as possible.

However, our bodies are constantly picking up noise and signals from our surroundings. In the past, our ancestors would have relied on the rising of the sun for their source of light. The moon on certain nights, fires, and candles would’ve been all they had for light outside of sunlight. Obviously, they were without the technology and screens that make up our everyday life in modern society.

The thing is, technology, even including items such as the light bulb, are so new to us, that our bodies haven’t adapted to this new constant stream of light. It’s similar to how many of us feel that it’s much easier to wake up on a bright, summer morning, than it is to wake up on a dark, cold winter’s day.

Getting a lack of sleep for a prolonged period leads to a decrease in the level of melatonin, a hormone which is produced by the body which can aid our immune system. It’s no coincidence, then that many of catch a cold or become poorly after having had a few night’s of little sleep.

So, what can we do to combat the levels of blue light given off to us from technology, and how can we ensure we get a real night’s sleep? Remember, if we want to live a healthy life, feeling full of energy, and make sure that we can control our fat levels, then taking the steps to getting into a healthy sleep routine is vital.

One of the first things to do is to replace the bright LED lights in your home with dimmer, calmer incandescent bulbs. They might be more expensive to run, but it’s a small price to pay for the investment on your health.

An hour or so of the sun setting, switch off all bright lights, and especially LED lights. Use candles where possible, or a low wattage orange lamp.

If you can, switch off all artificial light sources of a couple of hours prior to going to bed. Yes, that means your computer and television as well. If you really are serious about your health and sleep pattern, then this is crucial. There are plenty of things you can do instead of watching television; make a phone call, read a book, write, or listen to the radio.

Sleep in a pitch black room, and avoid the temptation to play on your smartphone whilst you’re in bed.

If you do have to get out of bed during the night, refrain from switching on any bright lights.

The levels of artificial light around us has increased at an incredible rate over the past couple of hundred years. Although it would be difficult to imagine a world without it, and there are countless benefits that technology brings us each day, we must learn to live with it and put up measures to ensure that it doesn’t affect our sleep, and ultimately, our health. If we are serious about improving our sleep and still keeping gadgets in our home, then by making some small but effective changes around the house, you’ll be able to enjoy the technology through the day whilst still getting your full sleep on a night.