What is Blue Light?
Blue light is precisely what it sounds like. The light emitted from cell phones, computer screens, tablets, TVs and other devices produces what is recognized as short-wavelength “blue-spectrum” light. Although probably strongest in your devices, blue light is also very pronounced in some LED lights and CFL lights. Incandescent light tends to be a warmer tone.
How Does it Impact Us?
Before the arrival of artificial lighting, evenings were spent in darkness, relatively speaking. The darkness that you experience as evening comes on influences your circadian rhythm and melatonin production--a major hormone that influences your sleep and wake cycles. As lights go on in houses at night, enabling you to stay up later, they may not only be allowing you a few more productive hours, but when you shut them off, they may have sent your brain messages that it’s time to stay awake. Of all the light colors you are exposed to via artificial light, the blue light is considered some of the worst light in impacting your production of melatonin and thus your sleep. Yes, this means it may be a really bad idea to stay on your computer, smart phone or TV at night, or be working in rooms with CFL light bulbs or certain colors of LED bulbs. Experts are warning us that it’s very possible that spending time on your device in the evening is giving your body so much blue light that it’s affecting your sleep and thus your overall health.
In addition to affecting sleep, eye specialists are also studying the impact of blue light. When I talked with a local optometrist about blue light, not only was he familiar with the circadian rhythm concern, but he also remarked that research is being done to monitor the impact of device use and retina health. The cumulative effect of blue light to the eyes is believed to be of particular concern to the retina, and a contributing factor to age-related macular degeneration. Because of the explosion of devices the last few years, it’s too early to tell the full impact of blue light on your eyesight, but eye specialists are warning people to take precautions in limiting their blue-light exposure.
What You Can Do
First, it’s important to note that not all blue light is bad all the time. You are naturally exposed to blue-spectrum light in the daylight hours and it’s important to your mental and physical well being to be exposed to this. So make a point to go outside during the day and get some natural blue-light at the right time for your body’s circadian rhythm and melatonin production!
If possible, avoid or greatly limit looking at your computer screen, cell phone or TV for several hours before bed. Or if you need to be on a device before bed, dim your screen brightness and put on a pair of tinted computer glasses.
In our home we use Gunnar Computer Glasses, which are quality computer glasses with specially tinted lenses for computer use. Joe spends the most time on computers during the day, and finds that these glasses seem to really affect the eye strain and headaches he can get when working on computers. If you work in front of a computer, you can also wear these anytime to limit the blue light from negatively impacting your retina. Wearing them when using devices at night may help you sleep better.
Dim your house lights as you approach bedtime, and don’t use nightlights. If you need a nightlight, the red-tinted lights are lowest in the “blue light” concerns. Salt lamps are a great option for red-tinted light, and then you get the added health benefit of negative ions being added to the air.
Check out an app called f.lux that you can install on your home computer (including Mac & Linux OS), iPads, iPhones. It warms the color display on your devices at night. Disclaimer: We’re just beginning to test f.lux ourselves, as it was something we read about as we did research for this article, so we can’t speak about all the potential pros and cons of this program.
Because our use of tablets, smart phones and other devices has become incrementally multiplied during the last few years, it's too early to tell the long-term impact that these things may have on our health. We encourage you to do your own study on these subjects and take prudent measures to protect yourself from the potentially-damaging impact that these devices may have.
For further study, consider checking these links: