The modern world brings endless distractions. Everything from breaking news to cat videos is at our fingertips on an instantaneous basis. As such, it can be difficult to get to sleep at night without first spending an hour scrolling through Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, email, and so on. Unfortunately, evidence shows that more than just the content itself may be hindering our sleep—the light our devices emit may be telling our brains to stay awake too.
Light from electronic devices suppresses the release of melatonin, a hormone that affects the circadian rhythm and tells the brain when to sleep. When melatonin is suppressed, it takes longer to feel tired and longer to fall asleep. Exposure to any artificial light at night can affect melatonin levels, but our smartphones, tablets, laptops, and TVs are especially detrimental. The screens of these electronic devices have a higher concentration of blue light than natural daylight does. This blue light is especially powerful in the suppression of melatonin.
Why blue light? According to the National Sleep Foundation, the human brain is particularly sensitive to short wavelengths of light. At only 460 nanometers, blue light is one of the shortest wavelengths that humans can see. In a Harvard Medical School study of the comparative effects of blue light on melatonin levels, researchers found that exposure to blue light suppressed melatonin for twice as long as exposure to green light. It also shifted the subjects’ sleep schedules by twice as much time.
So what can we do?
The National Sleep Foundation recommends keeping devices out of the bedroom and turning them off at night. While that might work to improve sleep, it’s not necessarily realistic advice, especially for college students who might live in a dorm room or for those who use their phones for alarm clocks. Another common piece advice is to avoid looking at screens for two or three hours before bed, but that’s also tough for students who are trying to finish homework or prepare for class.
Here are a few more practical strategies to reduce exposure to blue light:
- Use lightbulbs that emit less blue light such as GE Align PM or Lighting Science Good Night
- Install lux on your computer
- Install Twilight on Android devices and use Night Shift on iOS devices
- Reduce the blue/green color settings on TVs or use driftTV
- Wear orange-tinted glasses that block blue light (i.e. Uvex, Carbonshade, Swannies)
Okay, now that you’ve lessened your blue light, have some fun with our BuzzFeed quiz!
Happy sleeping! Zzzzz…