Today, blue light is everywhere – emitted by everyday screens like smartphones, computers and other digital devices as well as by LED lights. While natural blue light from the sun is fine, artificial blue light is not.
Artificial blue light is a problem for two reasons: we spend a lot of time front of our devices and our eyes are too close to these devices – often within arm’s length. Too much blue light from our devices and light sources can lead to eye strain – a problem that worsens with age. Other studies have shown that too much exposure to blue light can damage light-sensitive cells in the retina, which may lead to long-term problems such as cataracts, snow blindness and macular degeneration.
Worse, when consumed at night, blue light can affect circadian rhythms and suppress melatonin production. This disrupts sleep patterns, causes insomnia, and has negative long-term health consequences. In addition, melatonin is an important agent for fighting cancer. This is a particular problem in hospitals, assisted living and other medical facilities. LED lights make it difficult for patients to fall asleep faster and get more restful sleep, leading to longer recovery times.
Health industry concerns
When it comes to screens, the problem with blue light, according to the Harvard Health Letter, is “Not all colors of light have the same effect… Blue wavelengths seem to be the most disruptive at night. And the proliferation of electronics with screens, as well as energy-efficient lighting, is increasing our exposure to blue wavelengths, especially after sundown.”
“The more research we do, the more evidence we have that excess artificial light at night can have a profound, deleterious effect on many aspects of human health,” Charles Czeisler, PhD, MD, told WebMD. Czeisler is the chief of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and is also director of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School. “It is a growing public health concern.”
The problem isn’t limited to office lighting and electronic screens. According to WebMD, “the American Medical Association … issued a statement showing concerns that the new ultra-bright light-emitting diode (LED) lamps many cities are now using in their streetlights could ‘contribute to the risk of chronic disease.’”
WebMD also cited a study in which “people in a sleep lab who read from an e-reader at night saw their nighttime melatonin levels drop by 55% after five days, took longer to fall asleep, had less restorative rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and felt more groggy the next day than those reading a paper book.” A different study evaluating the impact of light on teenagers found that “just an hour of exposure from a glowing device, like a phone, suppressed melatonin by 23%; two hours decreased it by 38%.”
To protect ourselves from blue light at night, the Harvard Health Letter recommended the following:
- Replace any white nightlight bulb (which may emit blue light) with a colored bulb. For example, red light “has the least power to shift circadian rhythms and suppress melatonin,” a chemical that can help induce sleep.
- Put down your device, stop watching TV or looking at bright screens about two hours before the time you want to go to sleep.
- Consider wearing blue-blocking lenses if you work at night or constantly use screens at night. You might also want to install filters in your lamps to reduce blue light.
In addition, choose your LED lighting carefully. Today there are an increasing number of human-centric lighting solutions that tune to the body’s circadian rhythms. However, truly healthy lighting must do more than adjust the visual color temperature, because that doesn’t reduce the amount of blue light. Instead look for solutions that remove blue light from the equation.
Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to a more restful night of sleep and a healthier future.
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