Blue Light is Sabotaging More Than Just Your Sleep
When I say the words blue light, your first thought probably jumps to sleep. We’ve all heard it a thousand times before: Avoid blue light 2 hours before bed! Put on those blue-light blocking glasses! Or else!
But the truth is, blue light is more than just a sleep sabotager — it can also harm other aspects of your health. Keep reading for the full picture on blue light.
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What You Really Need to Know About Blue Light
Blue light is a type of visible light rays that’s emitted by the sun. Blue light signals to your brain that it's time to be active, alert, and hungry when the sun is out. At the same time, the absence of blue light after the sun goes down allows your body to produce melatonin and helps you slow down and feel sleepy and relaxed. Blue light is also used to backlight electronic devices like tablets, phones, and computers and in recent years, that has caused a whole host of issues.
Blue light exposure, especially in the evenings, contributes to poor sleep quality since it inhibits melatonin production. But that’s not all it does. Blue light can also:
1.Sabotage immune health
Since melatonin is found in immune cells and plays a role in the inflammatory response. When you sabotage melatonin production with blue light, you’re also reading to the production of unhealthy levels of inflammation in the body.
2. Damage eye health
While blue light is natural, our eyes are not used to the chronic exposure to artificial blue light that we have become accustomed to in our modern society. The majority of people stare at LED screens between 7 to 10 hours of each day. That’s approximately half of your total waking hours! This has been shown to have an impact on the health of our eyes, causing damage to your retina and cornea leading to dry eyes and eye strain. Blue light exposure has also been linked to the rise in nearsightedness in children (1) who have more screen time.
3. Skin health
This one is a little complex since research has shown (2) that exposure to blue light from electronic devices can contribute to oxidative stress and skin cell damage but also that targeted blue light therapy has been shown to be beneficial for treating acne (3) and other skin conditions. It all comes down to the source of your exposure.
How to reverse the effects of blue light
Simply avoiding blue light before bed is easier said than done; and luckily, there are other ways to mitigate the negative effects of blue light without tossing your phone and TV into the ocean. If you’re got a job that requires you to be on a computer all day — or you just won’t give up that Netflix episode before bed — try the following tips for reversing the effects of blue light:
1. Wear light-protecting glasses
Even if you have to stare at a screen all day or into the evening hours, blue light blocking glasses can help protect your eyes. Research has even shown (4) that wearing blue light-blocking glasses can improve visual performance and sleep quality. You can also take it one step further by switching out your regular blue light blocking glasses for amber colored glasses a few hours before bed. This type of lense filters out more blue light than regular blue light blocking glasses. In fact, a study from Columbia University Medical Center found that (5) amber colored glasses increase the sleep of insomnia patients by at least 30 minutes per night as well as increasing the quality of sleep.
2. Take an antioxidant eye health supplement
Found in foods like squash, asparagus, and leafy greens, antioxidants zeaxanthin and lutein are two great options to eye health. Why? Scientists suspect (6) that supplementing with these two nutrients in combination can help support healthy eyes and vision quality. And while additional studies need to be done, research has been favorable with little to no side effects.
3. Enable blue-light blocking filters
In recent years technology companies have started wisening up to the harmful effects of blue light and are trying to take steps to mitigate the damage. One great development has been “nighttime” settings on your screens. If your phone doesn't have a setting like this, you can also also purchase blue light screen protectors for your phone, laptop, and other devices.
4. Switch out your lightbulbs
Blue light doesn’t just come from your screens, it can also come from your lightbulbs. I recommend that whenever possible, buy LED bulbs with a warmer color range to cut out blue light in your home. In the evenings, make sure you’re using soft lamp light or dimming any overhead lights.
Blue light is one of those sneaky things affecting our health on a daily basis. And while none of us can eliminate all blue light, the tips above can help you reduce your exposure and preserve your sleep, eye health, skin health, and immune health as much as possible.
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- Czepita D, Mojsa A, Ustianowska M, Czepita M, Lachowicz E. Reading, writing, working on a computer or watching television, and myopia. Klin Oczna. 2010;112(10-12):293-5. PMID: 21469524.
- Lorrio S, Rodríguez-Luna A, Delgado-Wicke P, et al. Protective Effect of the Aqueous Extract of Deschampsia antarctica (EDAFENCE®) on Skin Cells against Blue Light Emitted from Digital Devices. Int J Mol Sci. 2020;21(3):988. Published 2020 Feb 2. doi:10.3390/ijms21030988
- Gold MH, Andriessen A, Biron J, Andriessen H. Clinical Efficacy of Self-applied Blue Light Therapy for Mild-to-Moderate Facial Acne. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2009;2(3):44-50.
- Downie LE, Keller PR, Busija L, Lawrenson JG, Hull CC. Blue‐light filtering spectacle lenses for visual performance, sleep, and macular health in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2019;2019(1):CD013244. Published 2019 Jan 16. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD013244
- Ari Shechter, Elijah Wookhyun Kim, Marie-Pierre St-Onge, Andrew J. Westwood. Blocking nocturnal blue light for insomnia: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 2018; 96: 196 DOI: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2017.10.015
- Buscemi S, Corleo D, Di Pace F, Petroni ML, Satriano A, Marchesini G. The Effect of Lutein on Eye and Extra-Eye Health. Nutrients. 2018;10(9):1321. Published 2018 Sep 18. doi:10.3390/nu10091321
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.