It’s without a doubt that the advent of artificial lighting has completely changed the way we live our lives. Once shrouded in darkness, our nights are now filled with lights whether that be from domestic lighting fixtures, street lamps or even our electronics. But are we paying the price? I’m not talking electricity bills. Are we doing damage to ourselves every night without even realising it? Baxter Blue is helping to raise awareness of the issues with artificial lighting from electronic screens, and provide us an avenue to combat this with their innovative range of clear glasses that block out blue light.
You may have heard that blue light may be harmful to certain aspects of our lifestyle, but do you know why? In this post I help to breakdown the characteristics of blue light, our natural circadian rhythm, and why blue light has a hidden dark side.
LET’S GET PHYSICAL
Physics has shown us that the electromagnetic spectrum is made up a heap of different wave lengths with different energies. Light waves with shorter wavelengths are stronger (i.e. they have more energy), than those with longer, more gentle wavelengths like radio waves. Us humans can only see waves in the “Visible Light” spectrum, and within this sub-spectrum are again many different wavelengths and energies. The visible light spectrum is essentially a rainbow, and each colour travels at their own range of wavelengths and energies. This is where our antagonist, blue light, resides.
Blue light is one of those things that people hear is ‘bad’, yet they don’t really understand why or how it might be ‘bad’ for our system. And, as you know, I’m more interested in the ‘how‘ of things, and I think it’s extremely important for others to be too. The truth is, we need blue light as it’s still vital for regulating various physiological functions and our biological ‘clock’, the circadian system. Another truth, it is everywhere, so don’t think you can eradicate it from your life. Good news is, you can do things to reduce your exposure to blue light, but we’ll get to that later. As with most things, moderation is key and overexposure can be harmful. But the important thing to note here, is that different spectrums of light have their own properties (red vs blue light), which means not all light has the same effect. Blue light wavelengths are beneficial for us during daylight hours to help keep us alert, awake and attentive but can be the most disruptive for us during the night of all the wavelengths, which we will soon learn. Technology has advanced the production and use of electronics with screens that emit blue light, as well as the modern energy-efficient lighting and both are increasing our exposure to blue light especially during the night.
THE CIRCADIAN RHYTHM + BLUE LIGHT
The circadian rhythm is our daily biological clock that governs our pattern of activity throughout the day and night. Collectively, it is our physical, mental, and behavioral changes which follow a daily cycle. Usually, this cycle lasts 24 hours but can be slightly shorter or longer depending on the individual. There have been a tonne of studies since about the 70’s that not only show that blue light can disrupt our circadian rhythm, but that messing around with your natural cycle can disrupt your sleep and even how your bodily organs function since they have their own ‘biological clocks’ that dictate their activity. The key pathway involved here is the regulation of the melatonin hormone, and blue light has the strongest influence out of all the light wavelengths. Melatonin, as we know, is the key hormone that prepares our bodies for sleep. That’s why you’ll hear people who suffer from mild sleep issues take melatonin supplements. While melatonin is always present in our body in low levels during the day, it’s released in high concentrations during our ‘biological night’ a few hours before bed and peaks in the middle of the night while we sleep. Getting exposed to blue light (naturally emitted from the Sun) during the day is super important for staying alert, awake and can improve performance and mood. And obviously, we don’t need this while we are sleeping. Previous studies have shown that blue light during the night suppresses melatonin production, because put simply, it tricks us into thinking its still daytime and therefore our bodies do not need to be prepared for sleep. The literature also shows that it doesn’t take much exposure for melatonin production to be suppressed, even as short as 45 minutes will skew your sleeping cycle for the night. Modern electronic devices such as smart phones, TV’s, eBook readers and computers are all huge contributors to our exposure to blue light during the night. The emergence of energy efficient light sources are also big culprits, and while these are helpful for reducing energy consumption, they also emit more blue light than the traditional incandescent light bulbs.
Blue light isn’t always a bad thing though. There are actual clinical benefits of being exposed to blue light. Light therapy is used for treating depression, sleep disorders, eating disorders and even has applications in the treatment of dementia. Also, those who need to shift their clock can also benefit. Take shift workers for example who have variable sleep patterns (like Mr Beauty & the Geek), or those who are jet lagged. Even if you struggle to wake up or be alert in the morning, you could benefit from bursts of blue light.
HOW TO MANAGE BLUE LIGHT WITH BAXTER BLUE
The good news is, there are things you can do each day to reduce how much blue light you are exposed to during the night. The obvious answer would be, well, to avoid all sources of blue light, but that is basically impossible, and also an unrealistic expectation in todays world. But you can help to reduce the levels you are exposed to.
When Baxter Blue popped up on my Instagram feed one day I knew I had to get to get my hands on a pair of their blue-light filter glasses. In the last 6 months or so I have never spent so much time on a computer in my life before. Analysing data and thesis writing has been taking up to 10-12 hours of my day – and couple that with researching and writing blog posts, editing photos, and being on Instagram – my life was filled with electronic screen after electronic screen. And my sleeping suffered. I started going to bed later, waking up later but also struggling to wake up where I would stay in bed for nearly 30 minutes before being alert enough to get myself up. I thought it was just the stress and fatigue of thesis writing, but I soon learnt it could also be all the blue light I was unconsciously exposing myself to during the night that was also disrupting my sleep. So I’ve made some positive changes since then.
The Baxter Blue glasses are non-prescription orange lenses that filter out blue light in the spectrum of 400nm-440nm by up to 50%. While they claim to be helpful for preventing eye strain induced by blue light during the day, I choose the wear them at night when I’m watching TV, working on my laptop or on my phone to reduce the amount of blue light that could be suppressing my melatonin production. Not to mention, they have such gorgeous designs and are super stylish so you could wear them even for a fashion statement. I have the ‘Lane’ style in Speckled Tort. I’ve made a conscious effort to incorporate them into my usual routine, not that it’s hard to do, but it’s an easy to thing to forget especially when I don’t need to wear my long distance glasses at home. They are super comfortable to wear, and are tinted subtly enough so as not to distort the appearance of anything too heavily. I really love my Baxter Blue glasses and can’t go without them these days.
OTHER WAYS TO REDUCE BLUE LIGHT EXPOSURE
Seeing as technology is what is contributing to our over-exposure of blue light, there are ways we can reduce this by changing the way, and how long, we use them for.
Smart phones have literally taken over our lives, but luckily some come with the options to reduce blue light exposure during the night. Later Apple iPhones for example have a ‘Night Shift’ feature where you can schedule your phone to reduce in brightness and tint at chosen times. I set mine to switch on at 7pm each night, and to return to normal by 7am when I wake up. You can adjust the tint as warm as you want to reduce the blue light emissions. I think this is a perfect way to use your devices as usual and reduce your blue light levels automatically. It’s super easy to set up, and you don’t have to think about it again. If your phone doesn’t have this feature, there are apps you can download which can adjust this for you.
If you’re an eBook user, you might not want to read this. A study in 2014 found that participants who read on eBooks took longer to fall asleep, experienced less REM sleep, and had higher alertness right before bed than those who read books on print. After standardising for 8-hour sleep, those who read eBooks struggled more to fully wake up in the morning than their printed book counterparts. So I guess the point is, eBook readers are horrible for our sleeping patterns, especially when people usually read in bed before going to sleep. I myself am not a fan of eBooks so this isn’t a problem for me, but I know how popular they can be. Aim to purchase one where you adjust the tint and brightness of the display to minimise your exposure to blue light.
If you do read in bed with a lamp on, choose a warm, incandescent light bulb. Or, you can go extreme and choose red lights for reading. Red light has a longer wavelength and has the least influence on the suppression of melatonin. While we’re on the topic, select incandescent light bulbs warmer in tint for your household lights as these will emit less blue light than newer, energy-saving bulbs, especially LEDs!
Aim to create a routine before bed where you switch off from electronic devices including TV and phones for at least an hour right before you hit the sack. Two hours is recommended usually, but I don’t think this realistic for a lot of people today so I think you should at least try for an hour and coupled with blue light blocking glasses there should still be a positive effect. I reserve all nightly activities which do not require electronic screens for this period of time. This includes cleaning the kitchen, packing lunch for the next day, sorting out the next day’s outfit. And I am always conscious of turning off as many lights as possible during this time. One thing I’ve also really cut back on in the last few months is how much time I spend on my phone during the night. Instagram use has been my biggest cutback and it’s had many positive results for me not limited to reducing screen exposure.
Are you conscious of blue light and how it affects your biological clock? What strategies do you have in place to reduce your exposure? Let me know in the comments below!
Duffy, J. F., & Czeisler, C. A. (2009). Effect of Light on Human Circadian Physiology. Sleep Med Clin, 4(2), 165–177.
Haim, A., & Zubidat, A. E. (2015). Artificial light at night: melatonin as a mediator between the environment and epigenome. Philos Trans R Soc B: Biol Sci, 370(1667), 20140121.
Tosini, G., Ferguson, I., & Tsubota, K. (2016). Effects of blue light on the circadian system and eye physiology. Mol Vis, 22, 61–72
Chang, A. M., Aeschbach, D., Duffy, J. F., Czeisler, C. A. (2015). Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness.
*Product was provided for editorial consideration however all views, experiences and opinions are genuine and my own. The Beauty & the Geek AU is no expert so please do not substitute my opinions for professional advice.