From Smart Phones To Lightbulbs – How Blue Light Is Wreaking Havoc On Our Health
Blue light. Up until a few weeks ago I had never really paid any attention to the term myself. I mean why would I? It’s not like I was sitting around staring at blue lights all day.
But, guess what? I was. And chances are good you are too. As a matter of fact, just by reading this post, you’re eyes are being flooded with blue light at this very moment. You just don’t notice it, but it’s there. And it’s wreaking havoc on your health.
Wreaking havoc? Unfortunately, yes. Several studies have linked excessive exposure to blue light at night to an increased risk of blindness, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and even depression. Yikes!
Don’t worry though. You don’t have to go throw out all of your blue christmas lights just yet. There are fortunately, some very simple things you can do to minimize your exposure to blue light as well as its affects on your health. Before we get into that though, let’s get a little bit into what blue light actually is.
Blue Light Explained
Most people are aware that the visible light we see is made up of a spectrum of colors. At one end of this visible spectrum is red light and at the other end is blue light. Between these two colors you’ll find orange, yellow, and green as well as many different shades of each color. Blue light is simply the light on the blue side of the spectrum.
When these colors are all combined, such as what is given off by the sun or a light bulb, we see “white light”. This is why you can be exposed to the different color lights on a regular basis and not even know it. They’re all “hidden” in the white light.
Sources Of Blue Light
Unless you spend all your waking hours in complete darkness, you are constantly being flooded with blue light. This is because the sun is by far the biggest source of blue light there is. Fortunately, this is a good thing.
Turns out, this natural blue light is essential for our overall health and wellbeing. As a matter of fact, research shows that it boost alertness, enhances mood, improves reaction time, and produces an overall better sense of wellbeing. Pretty cool, right?
However, that’s not all natural blue light is good for. It’s most important function seems to be it’s ability to regulate our natural sleep/wake cycles, or what is known as our circadian rhythm.
Ever notice how you seem to perk up a little more once you step out of the house first thing on a bright and sunny morning? That’s because blue light from the sun acts as a sort of stimulant to jump start your day. You can kind of think of it as nature’s version of coffee.
This is also why we begin to feel tired when the sun sets at night. The absence of light, especially blue light, signals to your brain that it’s time to go to sleep.
Unfortunately, the sun is no longer our only source of blue light. And it’s these new sources that are the real concern.
Two hundred years ago, the idea of blue light toxicity was non-existent. After all, the sun was our only source of it. As the sun disappeared over the horizon, so too did our exposure to blue light. Fast forward to today, and this is no longer the case.
We are now exposed to blue light on a regular basis from a variety of commonly used sources, some of which may surprise you. These new sources of blue light include digital screens on devices such as smart phones, TV’s, tablets, computers, and laptops, as well as LED and fluorescent lighting. For most people, that’s a lot of exposure.
This is especially problematic for kids up to the age of 10, whose eye’s natural filters haven’t fully developed. This makes excessive blue light exposure even more dangerous for them.
To compound the problem for both adults and kids, much of this exposure occurs long after the sun has set, when there should be no exposure to blue light at all. This has the affect of “tricking” the brain into thinking you shouldn’t be tired and is thought to be a big reason so many people have trouble sleeping.
In fact, studies have shown that exposure to blue light even a couple of hours before bed suppresses the release of melatonin (the sleep hormone) and significantly delays REM (deep) sleep. Think about this the next time you let your kids play with your phone or tablet before bed.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, studies have also related excessive blue light exposure at night to increased risks of blindness, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and even depression.
Since too much blue light is the problem, the obvious solution is to limit our exposure to it, especially after sunset. Fortunately, this isn’t too hard to do. Below are just a few of your options.
1. Blue Light Blocking Glasses
This is probably the simplest method for reducing blue light exposure from any and all sources. I recently purchased this pair from Amazon for under $10.
Sure, they don’t look the coolest, but they are super inexpensive and they do a great job of limiting blue light exposure before bed and when working on the computer. I’ve actually found that I can work significantly longer on the computer without my eyes getting tired.
2. Blue Light Blocking Lightbulbs
If there was one time you should really want to minimize your exposure to blue light, it would be as you were settling into bed for the night. Fortunately, this is easily accomplished by switching out your regular LED bulbs with blue light blocking lightbulbs (these are simply lightbulbs with an orange or reddish tint to them).
I recently purchased these bulbs from Amazon to put into both our room and our kids’s room. Although they look like they are meant for Halloween and take a little getting used to, I have noticed they are much easier on the eyes at night, and seem to be less stimulating to the mind than regular LED bulbs.
3. For iPhone Users
If you have a 5S or later iPhone, or a more recent iPad, then you’re in luck. Apple recently released an update that allows you to lower the blue light emitted from your phone at the press of a button. Labeled “Night Shift”, this is a great option if you like to use your phone or iPad at night as it greatly reduces strain on your eyes and can help protect you from the dangers of excessive blue light exposure after dark. You can even schedule it to turn on and off at certain times so you never even have to think about it. Pretty cool if you ask me.
To find this feature, simply swipe up from the bottom of your phone or iPad. You’ll see the button labeled “Night Shift” beneath the brightness slider. Press it, and you’ll immediately notice your phone change colors as the blue light being emitted gets greatly reduced.
f.lux is a fantastic free program that you can download straight from the internet for your computer or laptop. Once downloaded, it automatically makes adjustments to your screen’s brightness and tone based on the time of day. This is a great option for reducing eye strain if you find yourself on the computer for much of the day or night.
I recently started using f.lux and honestly can’t say enough good things about it. It makes the screen much more comfortable on my eyes and I can work longer without my eyes getting tired. Download it for free here.
Note: Using f.lux alone won’t do much to reduce your exposure to blue light if you’re still surrounded by bright LED lighting just as replacing your LED bulbs with blue light blocking bulbs won’t do much if you’re still staring at a bright digital screen right before bed. The more you can minimize your exposure to blue light, the more you’ll notice the benefits.
One Final Note
Remember, not all blue light is bad. During the day you want to expose yourself to as much natural blue light as you can. This will help to regulate your natural sleep/wake cycle and leave you feeling more energized throughout the day. If for some reason this isn’t possible, a light box can be a great alternative. These work by emitting full spectrum light similar to that of the sun and are commonly used to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in parts of the world where natural sun light is often absent much of the year.
What do you do to limit your exposure to blue light at night? Please share below.
This post contains affiliate links. Click here to read my affiliate policy.