The Blue Light Nightmare: It Doesn’t End When You Wake Up
Warning: There is something evil lurking in your computer.
No, it’s not a Facebook stalker, nor an identity thief. It’s not a virus or a hacker. It's not even an email chain letter. It's something far more insidious and harmful to your health. It's something that's much easier to overlook, and not only limited to your computer.
It's blue light, emitted from TVs, electronic devices, streetlights, and even the energy efficient light bulbs in your home. With the rate of technological growth these days, it isn't likely to disappear any time soon.
Let’s turn the spotlight on blue light and find out exactly how it operates and what we can do to protect ourselves from this nighttime invader.
The effects of blue light on the circadian rhythm
The circadian rhythm is the body’s natural biological clock which signals the body to sleep, wake, and eat. It is often influenced by environmental factors such as the sun, the moon, and the blue light.
Blue light mimics the sun. Therefore, exposure to blue light tricks our bodies into thinking it is daytime which causes our bodies to behave accordingly.
At night, our bodies naturally produce melatonin, a hormone that prepares us for sleep. However, if our bodies’ receive a signal that it’s daylight, the melatonin level is suppressed. Blue light sets off the daylight signal, reducing the melatonin release, and offsetting the circadian rhythm. This is where the dominoes start to fall apart.
Studies have revealed a link between blue light exposure at night and life-threatening conditions such as cancer, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. A research team at Harvard found that even a slight disruption to the circadian rhythm is enough to send sugar levels soaring into a prediabetic state. Such disruption also causes a decrease in leptin, the chemical that sends signals to the body to tell it to stop eating. Bad news for those monitoring weight and blood sugar levels.
The biggest culprit
If you think the light from your table lamp seems cozy, think again...
Beneath that lampshade is a bulb with an approximate eight lux brightness, and according to Harvard researcher, Stephen Lockey, even this may be enough to disrupt sleep. However, when it comes to blue light intensity, the light bulb pales in comparison.
If danger lurks under every lampshade, it flagrantly exposes itself in electronic devices. While all light can be detrimental to sleep, nothing quite rivals the power of blue light.
The degree to which blue light suppresses melatonin depends on its wavelength and duration of the exposure. Blue light has the shortest wavelengths of all light, and the most potential to cause damage.
In fact, just one hour of blue light exposure can suppress up to 71% melatonin, which can be quite disruptive to the body’s circadian rhythms. Even a 0.1 lux blue light (moonlight level) lowered melatonin production more than any other wavelength.
When Harvard researchers compared the effects of 6.5 hours of blue light exposure to 6.5 hours of green light exposure, they found that the blue light decreased the production of melatonin for twice as long as the green and interrupted the circadian rhythm by twice as much and that means a lot of lost sleep.
You can think of blue light in comparison to the Big Bang Theory: with one little offset of the circadian rhythm comes a whole chain of events spiraling out of control. That may lead to consequences that put the fate of our well-being at risk.
Here are some of the examples of how significant the impact of blue light can be.
You might also be interested in: F.Lux Exposed: The Truth About Blue Light Filter Apps And Blue Light Exposure
When the blue light strikes...
Increases cortisol release and stress
If you're looking to reduce your stress levels, start with lowering your blue light exposure.
Research shows that health-threatening stressors are characterized by a high cortisol release, with higher than average levels of cortisol at night and lower than average in the morning. Exposure to blue light increases levels of cortisol significantly at night, putting people at risk for ADHD, depression, anorexia, and insomnia.
Suppresses alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone
One of the most prominent roles that an a-MSH (alpha melanocyte stimulating hormone) plays in the human body is decreasing food intake and promoting weight loss. It also fights inflammation and protects the body from foreign proteins. Scientific data demonstrate that exposure to blue light can reduce the production of a-MSH causing obesity and increasing autoimmunity and likelihood of inflammation.
Increases the risk of obesity
It may seem like a stretch to blame blue light for your weight issues, but numbers don’t lie.
- A study of 54,724 nurses showed that those who worked the night shift had a higher probability to be overweight.
- Mice exposed to dim (5 lux) light at night showed altered circadian rhythms with increased body mass.
- According to a study of nearly 100,000 women, obesity parameters were higher in those exposed to light at night.
Blue light exposure can damage your eyes
We’ve all said this at one time or another, “the computer is hurting my eyes.” Could this eyestrain be pointing to far more permanent eye damage?
Studies show the eyesore people feel after using the computer is the result of blue light penetrating through the retina and into the macula, causing headaches and potential long-term damage.
Blue light also decreases the production of melanin (an antioxidant-rich pigment responsible for protecting the eyes) and destroys fatty acids leaving the eyes vulnerable to the breakdown of cells in the retina and eventual macular degeneration.
Glaucoma is another eye condition which may be related to the low production of melatonin. This condition is associated with a decline in functional retinal ganglia cells, which decreases as the disease progresses. A lack of melatonin has been shown to speed the decline. Specialists recommend people at risk for glaucoma may limit their exposure to blue light.
Blue light exposure can have a negative impact on sleep quality
The National Sleep Foundation says that if you fall asleep within 15 to 20 minutes of lying down, feel well rested in the morning, and your sleep is continuous, you have had a healthy sleep.
However, if this doesn’t describe your nightly slumber, you may be suffering from overexposure to blue light.
Blue light has been shown to reduce the melatonin production, affecting REM sleep patterns which decreases:
- the amount of time it takes to fall asleep
- the amount of time spent sleeping
- the overall quality of sleep
Blue light exposure may increase your risk of cancer
When blue light interferes with melatonin production, your body’s natural cancer protection is also facing a challenge. Exposure to blue light is associated with lower melatonin levels.
Studies have already found a correlation between blue light and breast and colon cancer, and are studying other types of cancers to determine a relationship more conclusively.
You might also be interested in: How The Effects Of Blue Light Can Increase Your Risk Of Cancer
Blue light exposure can lead to depression
Feeling down and you don’t know why? It might just be a chronic case of the blue-light-blues.
Studies show exposure to blue light can directly lead to impaired cognition, memory loss, depression, and anxiety-like behaviors, all of which can have a negative impact on a person's wellbeing.
A recent study performed on hamsters indicates that the increase in depressive behaviors may be caused by a brain inflammation generated by high levels of TNF-alpha (Tumor necrosis factor) resulting from chronic exposure to blue light.
Blue light is especially tough on children’s eyes
Every parent wants their children to have a happy and healthy life. However, when parents come home with the latest computer game, they’re inadvertently exposing them to blue light. And blue light can be especially tough on children’s eyes.
Young children have yet to develop the protective pigment that filters out blue light which is why they are especially vulnerable to the interruption of the circadian rhythm, production of melatonin, and lack of sleep than adults. In children's case, blue light exposure can lead to altered moods, obesity, and premature macular degeneration.
Blue light exposure can increase the risk of diabetes
Besides cutting down on your sugar intake, cutting down on blue light exposure may be another great way to prevent or keep diabetes under control.
Artificial light slows down sugar metabolism, leading to higher rates of obesity, higher levels of triglycerides, and lower levels of HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
Blue light has also been shown to interrupt the circadian rhythm, which may lead to islet impairment and a consequential risk for Type 2 Diabetes. While that’s bad news for anyone, it can be especially dangerous for those at risk for prediabetes or diabetes.
Mice studies have shown metabolic impairment can be reversed when blue light is eliminated, and reducing the blue light exposure at night can help prevent the onset of diabetes in humans.
Heart disease and blue light exposure
Let's say you exercise regularly, eat all the right foods, try to live a peaceful life, and then you spend the night in front of your computer.
Could blue light be reversing all the progress you’ve made toward keeping your cardiovascular system healthy?
When blue light throws off the circadian rhythm, your heart muscle cells get thrown off as well. Insulin resistance increases, the blood pressure goes up, and the likelihood of cardiovascular disease increases considerably.
Melatonin suppression due to blue light exposure leads to high blood pressure, an increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and decreased cardiovascular capacity, all putting the body at high-risk for heart disease.
Nowadays, we want it all in life. We want to be healthy and stay connected. We want to know where to get the best organic apples and where we can get the latest Apple computer.
The University of Toronto One conducted a study about the effects of blue light where researchers compared the results of melatonin levels in people wearing blue light blocking glasses in both dim and bright light.
The fact that both groups had similar melatonin levels supports the theory that blue light is indeed a strong factor in suppressing melatonin. It also suggests that computer users and those who work the night shift can protect themselves by wearing blue light blocking glasses.
Blue light blocking glasses is the only effective way to block blue light. Their orange blocking lenses do not filter blue light, like blue light filtering apps. They completely block it, with no risk of leakage. Plus, blue light blocking glasses move with you, filters stay with your device.
With blue blockers, your blue light protection doesn’t disappear when you turn off your smartphone. You can use blue blockers to protect you from all the artificial light from the TV, the LED bulbs you use in your home, light from street lamps, and any other electronic devices.
At Swanwick Sleep, we've dedicated years of hard work into creating stylish blue light blocking glasses called Swannies, the most effective and fashionable blue blocking glasses on the market.
We want a brighter future of healthy, happy people who sleep well and responsibly enjoy technology.
Protect yourself from blue light and join the future with Swannies blue blocking glasses. Check them out here.