In recent years, sleep has been pinned at the intersection of health savvy consumers and lifestyle technology. Sleep is becoming mainstream and trendy, with its own sub categories ranging from apps and trackers to temperature regulated sheets and blackout curtains.
At the height of this movement is our fascination with blue light. As Jamie Ducharme said in Time Magazine, “It’s become a virtually unchallenged piece of conventional wisdom that exposure to blue light — the type emitted by electronic device screens — is bad for sleep.”
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), your body has an internal clock known as your circadian rhythm, which works on a 24 hour cycle and is mostly controlled by patterns of light and darkness. Since this process depends on melatonin to function, light exposure at night could complicate your circadian rhythm and confuse your system. Studies have suggested that blue light suppresses melatonin, in turn disrupting the bodies ability to fall asleep.
“We’re not supposed to be exposed to any artificial light at night, period”- Dianne Augelli, M.D., a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine
Logically, it makes sense that artificial light before bed could keep you from getting into the deeper, more restorative stages of sleep. It’s why Donald Greenblatt, M.D., director of the University of Rochester Medicine Sleep Center, advises against falling asleep with the television on and iOS now features “Night Shift” to display warmer screens in the dark.
However, recent research conducted at the University of Manchester challenges this notion. The researchers concluded that yellow light actually seems to disturb sleep more than blue light after exposing mice to lights in different hues. They hypothesized that warmer-toned lights may actually trick the body into thinking it’s daytime, while cooler blue lights imitate twilight.
It’s true that animal studies don’t necessarily correlate to human behavior- but it does offer some insight into the way that different hues of light interrupt sleep.
While somewhat surprising, these findings aren’t unprecedented. Other researchers have argued that the bright lights and stimulating nature of electronics can keep you up, but blue light isn’t necessary the problem. Peter Keller, a professor of optometry and vision science at the University of Melbourne, told OneZero that it’s “scientifically plausible” that blue light could have adverse effects on eyesight. In the same article he also said, “It’s unlikely that blue light is bad for us”, based on his teams findings.
Keller goes on to explain that the profitability of the blue light micro-industry might be the cause for our recent obsession. He suggests our fear of blue light stems from more of a marketing ploy than hard evidence.
Where This Leaves Us
Clearly more research is needed to definitively say that blue light is bad for sleep. And it appears that blue light isn’t the sole culprit of sleep deprivation regardless. So what’s the best way to get a full eight hours each night?
James Wyatt, who directs sleep disorders and sleep-wake research at Rush University Medical Center, suggests keeping your room between 65–68 degrees Fahrenheit, limiting intermittent noise, sticking to roughly the same sleep and wake times each day, and keeping the room dark to get quality rest.
In my experience, reading a book with a cup of decaffeinated herbal tea puts me into a more relaxed mindset before bed. On nights where I feel stimulated or awake, I take a melatonin supplement.
If you’re having a hard time falling asleep, it might be time to ask yourself why. There are a lot of other factors to consider outside of blue light. Are you dealing with a lot of stress and anxiety at work? Do you drink caffeine after 5 PM? Whatever the case might be, it could make sense to take note of what you’re doing right before bed and experiment with some alternative methods to fall asleep.\
This article first appeared on Medium.