Blue Light & Sleep
By: Ashlee Wong, MA
Whenever I talk to people about their insomnia, one of the most common techniques we try is to reduce the amount of screen time before bed. Our phones and TV’s typically operate with blue light which enhances our overall functioning including a feeling of alertness. Ideally, we should all strive to stop watching TV, working, playing phone games, or scrolling through Facebook two to three hours before bed so that we can begin to do other activities more suited to soothing ourselves to sleep.
If there is a resistance to putting down our phones, more than likely it is because we often don’t fully understand what happens when we are exposed to blue light before bed. Assuming all medical conditions which might cause insomnia are ruled out, we all produce an optimal level of melatonin as we fall asleep. All wavelengths of light have some effect on suppressing your ability to produce melatonin so it is highly encouraged to find lightbulbs that produce the dimmest amount of light that will still be useful for your particular nighttime needs. However, blue light is especially harmful to the natural production of melatonin since it is twice as powerful as green light at suppressing our melatonin levels. If we are suppressing the production of melatonin, we are subsequently shifting our circadian rhythm which is the process by which we regulate sleeping and waking. This process is vital to ensure the essential functions of our bodies run well. Reducing the amount of time available to us for sleep can create difficulty being alert during the day at work or tending to other essential errands.
Once we understand the reasons why TV before bed is not as helpful as we’d like it to be, we can put into practice some tips for reducing our blue light exposure before bed. Creating a nighttime routine which includes activities that don’t need as much light tends to be most effective. Meditation, light exercise, or listening to soothing music are among the popular tools I’ve seen. Since we can’t do everything in complete darkness, red light before bed is best as it causes the least amount of disruption of melatonin production. If you are someone who needs to work late into the night, use blue-light filtering glasses or change the settings in your computer to something that automatically adjusts to dimmer lighting settings in order to reduce the effect as much as you can. Finally, getting as much natural sunlight during the day will not only help you feel alert while working but it gives your natural circadian rhythm a chance to settle into normalcy once the sun does set.
Written By: ASHLEE WONG, MA, Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist 103135. Supervised by Dr. Joselyn Josephine Ayala-Encalada Psy.D., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist 96987