Blue Light and Why It's Ruining Your Sleep

Blue Light and Why It's Ruining Your Sleep

By Jordan Mazur, MS, RD

Vision is a very complex process.  Most of us don’t even think about it; we wake up, open our eyes, and see this beautiful world.  But it’s actually a highly sophisticated system that allows our brain to interpret the spectrum of colors emitted from the sun and light.  We live in a digital world, and constantly hear about “blue light” emitted from electronic screens and whether it’s the reason so many of us are losing sleep.  

So, what is blue light exactly? Without getting too deep into physics, visible light is made up of different wavelengths. The shorter the wavelength, the higher the energy. Blue light is a color of short wavelength in the visible spectrum that can be seen by the human eye.  Sources of blue light include the sun, screens (TVs, smartphones, computers, laptops, and tablets), and fluorescent and LED lighting.

Why is this potentially harmful?  Well, our eyes don’t have much protective filtering against blue light.  Prolonged exposure can cause retinal damage and contribute to age-related macular degeneration, which can lead to vision loss.  Light helps boost alertness during the day. However, when you’re exposed to excessive blue light from your smartphone (or other screens) at night, it tricks the brain into thinking it’s still daytime and can impact your sleep-wake cycles by disrupting the natural production of melatonin in your body.

There’s already a large body of research to back the detrimental effects of blue light on sleep recent research adds evidence to this. This study of healthy young adults found that exposure to blue light from screens between the hours of 9pm - 11pm lead to:

1. Shortened total sleep time

2. Significantly suppressed melatonin production

3. Diminished sleep quality due to increase in the frequency of nighttime awakenings

So keep that screen away from your face at night, set a time to stop watching TV, and shift your screens to night-mode to shut off the blue light emitted from your device.  If you can’t cut out the technology, you can also purchase fashionable glasses that can filter out the blue light.  In a world of fad diets to help you lose weight, following a “blue light diet” can help you net positive sleep gains.

Jordan Mazur is an NFL Sports Dietitian and part of the Som Sleep Advisory Board. He utilizes a comprehensive approach to training and recovery, providing professional athletes with specialized nutritional support to maximize performance.

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