By now, I am sure you have heard about the dangers of artificial blue light. Almost every day there is a new article talking about how you shouldn’t sleep near your smart phone, or how you should avoid spending more than several hours in a windowless, artificially lit room, or how you need to be careful how much time you spend in front of a computer screen.
Is there any truth to all these warnings? Is artificial blue light really that bad for us? And what is it exactly? Is there anything we do about artificial blue light exposure in today’s 24-hour, technology-centered world?
In this week’s podcast and blog, I sat down with Andy from BLUblox, a company that makes trendy, affordable glasses that inhibit the side-effects of artificial blue and green light. Why is this important? Light is made up of particles that travel in waves which emit energy. These particles range in length and strength, and affect us in different ways at different times of the day—the shorter the wavelength, the higher the energy. Blue light has a short wavelength, and therefore is a high energy light source, which can either be artificial or natural.
Natural blue light from the sun is essential in regulating our sleep and wake cycles. When we see blue light from the sun, it tells our brain that it is day time and to make us feel alert and awake; it is kind of like a biological alarm clock. This can improve our focus and reaction times and create an overall sense of mental and physical wellbeing as we go about our day. When the sun sets, this kind of high-energy light goes away, telling our brain that soon it will time to go to bed. As a result, our brain starts secreting melatonin (the sleep hormone), while reducing our cortisol levels (the stress hormone), which prepares us for a good night's rest.
Blue light from the sun is also accompanied by all the other colors from the spectrum, making it a balanced and healthy light source. Notably, it contains red light, which helps repair and protect our cells and regulates our mood. When we don’t get enough of this balanced spectrum of natural light, such as in winter months when the sun does not shine for very long (or at all if you live in certain parts of the world!), people often get Season Affective Disorder , which impacts their cortisol levels (the stress hormone). This, in turn, affects their mental health and increases their risk for depression and anxiety; no wonder it is called S.A.D. for short!
When it comes to light exposure, it is all about balance. Artificial blue light, which is found in many of the devices we use on a day-to-day basis, has a lot of energy. In fact, the light found in devices such computers, televisions, smart phones, tablets, fridges, microwaves and LED light bulbs contains far more blue light than other colors in the light spectrum, which means our eyes are getting bombarded with a high-energy light source all day long, keeping us in a constant state of stress and inflammation. Over time, this can cause “digital eyestrain”, which, in turn, can lead to dry itchy eyes, headaches, depressed mood, fatigue and even macular degeneration (among other health issues).
This constant blue light exposure also impacts our sleeping patterns. In today’s world, when the sun goes down, we still use our phones, computers and other devices, which means that our brains are constantly being told to “stay awake!” and our bodies remain in an active, high-stress state. Although our mind is infinite and tireless, our brains are finite and get tired. When tired, hormones and other chemicals don’t flow like they should, and the internal networks of the brain can get stuck or over-fire, which happens when we are persistently exposed to high-energy artificial light that disrupts our natural circadian rhythm. This, in turn, can affect genetic expression, neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change and grow), production of hormones and our ability to sleep, which is essential for memory-building, recovery, detoxing and mood regulation. Research has even shown that this kind of sleep disruption increases our risk of type-2 diabetes, depression, heart disease, anxiety and cancer. When we do not sleep well and give the brain a rest, we upset our biological systems and throw the brain and body out of balance, which can lead to all sorts of health issues!
Thankfully, there are many ways we can both manage and limit our exposure to artificial blue light:
1. Use blue-light filtering glasses:
Although many of us have to work and live in environments where we are constantly exposed to artificial blue light, we can use blue-light filtering glasses (like those offered by BLUblox), which inhibit the negative side-effects that this kind of light has on our mental and physical health. Essentially, these kind of blue-light filtering glasses help us enjoy the benefits of technology in a healthy and safe way. They have really helped me feel better during the day and sleep better at night, and you can enjoy them to! Just use the code LEAF15 at checkout for 15% off your BLUblox glasses order.
2. Get as much natural light as you can throughout the day:
Of course, one of the easiest ways to get all the light you need is to spend time outdoors! Going for a walk in the morning, when you can get the most from the sun’s infrared rays, can really help you feel your best throughout the day, but any time spent outside is great. I personally love going for walks with my children and pets in the morning, doing yoga outside in the sun and going for picnics on the weekends. Even going for a quick walk to clear your mind when you feel strained can work wonders!
Yet there are times when, due to weather, seasonal changes or our work schedule, we don’t have access to natural light, which is why BLUblox offers other glasses that help balance the artificial blue and green light we are exposed to throughout the day.
There are also many red-light devices that can help repair and protect our brains and bodies from the negative side-effects of artificial light; for more information see my recent blog and podcast on red light therapy. For more info on Joovv's red light therapy devices and to get your special offer go to: www.joovv.com/drleaf.
Infrared saunas are also a great source of healthy light, and help protect us from the negative side-effects of too much artificial blue light. For more on the many health benefits of infrared saunas, and what kind of sauna I use every day, see my recent blog and podcast. To get $100 of your Sunlighten infrared sauna mention Dr. Caroline Leaf here.
3. Limit the amount of time you spend around artificial blue light:
Ideally, we should all try limit the amount of time we spend on our devices, not only to reduce our exposure to artificial blue light but also to give our brains and bodies a rest, especially before bed!
Of course, this may not be possible during the work day, but you can try limit your exposure to artificial blue light when you get home, especially if you battle falling asleep. Instead of watching TV before bed, for example, go for a walk or read a book. You can also reduce the amount of time you spend scrolling through your apps and social media before you turn off the light--I personally make it a rule to avoid going on my phone before bed unless there is a family emergency.
Also check out BLUbox’s community initiative. As a company, BLUblox believes that everyone should be able to see clearly and they envision a world where everyone who needs glasses can have access to them. There are 2.5 billion people in the world living with uncorrected vision impairment and further estimated 500 million people living in developing countries who simply need reading glasses to correct their vision. Through their partnership with RestoringVision, a non-profit dedicated to providing new, high-quality, reading glasses to those who would otherwise not have access, they help to give the gift of sight to people living in impoverished communities around the world. Their mission it to restore hope and the opportunity for a better quality of life in developing countries by restoring their ability to see clearly, work, read, learn, perform daily tasks and provide for themselves and their families.