We collectively stay up late, sleep less and tolerate poorer sleep quality thanks to the abundance of electronic distractions and their accompanying bright screens. For your health and happiness, it’s time to do something about it.
How bright light ruins your sleep
In the modern world, we do many things for ourselves that, in the context of hundreds of thousands of years of human existence and adaptation, are not quite optimal for our bodies. Most of us spend most of our days sitting when our bodies are primed to move and be active. Most of us eat heartily every day, despite the fact that we do little, metabolically speaking, «earn» calories. In the same vein, we have used technology to provide us with 24/7 access to bright light. In general, we spend a lot of time at the end of the day basking in the rays of TV screens, computer monitors and portable gadgets — a state of affairs that is terrible for our sleep quality and health.
To say that exposure to the light of your gadgets, computer use late at night and bright lights in the late evening ruins your sleep and reduces your quality of life is pretty convincing, but this argument is well supported by dating research. go back to the 1980s. Research over the past thirty years has shown an increasingly clear picture that in addition to our habit of moving too little and eating too much, we also stimulate our brains with late-night drinking, watching TV, playing with gadgets, and otherwise blowing ourselves up with bright light that keeps us too alert and stimulating too late in the day.
In the early 1980s, Dr. Charles Czeisler, at Harvard Medical School, established what had long been hypothesized about daylight and the circadian rhythm: exposure to bright light regulates the human body’s internal clock. Further research by Dr. Czeisler and others over the following decades established that not only light exposure regulates the body’s internal clock, but also the secretion of critical hormones such as serotonin and melatonin. Bright morning light increases serotonin production and makes us more alert, cheerful, and weak light in the evening increases melatonin production and makes it easier to fall asleep and sleep. Further research even showed that extended exposure to artificial light even increased the incidence of cancer (specifically, cancer that was stimulated by hormones produced by light exposure).
An additional and related study emerged in the 2000s: Studies have shown that blue frequency light is the most detrimental to good sleep and rest. While the evidence that blue frequency light disrupted organisms’ circadian rhythms dates back to the 1950s, it wasn’t until we began collectively exposing ourselves to blue frequency light late at night that the effect became apparent (and urgent) in humans.
Or, to break down all the research into one mood: We are happier and healthier when we experience fresh blue-white light in the morning and afternoon, dim and warm light in the evening, and sleep in a truly dark room.
So what can you do about it? Instead of feeling overwhelmed by how absurd it seems to have no bright lights in the evening, let’s break things down into easy-to-follow steps that will help you greatly minimize your exposure to evening lighting and get more restful sleep in the process.
What You Can Do With Late Night Light Exposure
We will be honest with you. Nothing in this list of tips and strategies that we are about to share with you will sound funny. Honestly, it’s the technological equivalent of your doctor telling you to do more cardio because it’s good for your heart. Your doctor is right, he means well, but there’s a good chance that neither you nor he will be doing more cardio for the foreseeable future, no matter how good it is for your heart.
In the same vein, indulging in playing video games late into the night after work is fun. The excitement of watching your favorite show on Netflix is fun. Bringing the real Library of Alexandria to your tablet or e-book reader and reading whatever your heart desires after the sun goes down isn’t just fun, it’s a technological marvel. However, given the prevalence of poor sleep and its highly detrimental effects, we encourage you to take even a few of our suggestions in an effort to improve sleep.
Drive the light out of your bedroom
This one is easy to sell. Even if you’re not ready to give up on the hustle and bustle of Netflix, there’s hardly a soul who wouldn’t love a darker and calmer bedroom. Your first order of business is to go for the lasting fruit of better sleep: get rid of all the small but cumulative sources of light pollution in your bedroom.
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Blocking light from outside is the most traditional (and still important) factor. Blackout shades or curtains are a great way to eliminate light pollution from street lights, security lights, and other outside light sources. Not sure if it’s worth investing in updated window treatments? You can buy six packs of 99% lightweight blockout temporary curtains for $33. If the experiment has been helpful, you may want to consider more permanent/expensive updates.
Even if it’s pretty dark outside, many of us have bedrooms that are now a real carnival of lights. LEDs on TVs, mobile phone chargers, and all sorts of electronics can easily brighten up a room better than even a bright night light. If your bedroom is filled with LEDs, you can easily dim them with inexpensive stickers or duct tape.
Turn off your screens
We know it’s hard to sell. Screens are our primary form of entertainment and we recommend turning them off a few hours before bedtime, akin to making people stop enjoying themselves. However, the crisp blue-white light that our TVs, tablets and smartphones cast on us can keep us entertained but also keep us awake.
Ideally, you should treat blue light exposure from your screens the same way you treat a cup of coffee. Most people wouldn’t pour themselves a big hot cup of coffee at 9pm if they wanted to be sleepy and ready for bed at 10pm, and along the same lines, you shouldn’t be sunbathing, so to speak, in the rays of the screen right in front of the bed if you want a quick and restful sleep. Having trouble resisting the attractiveness of your gadgets? Install a charging station in your kitchen or home office to keep them away from your nightstand.
Many of you will probably be curious when it comes to e-book readers, especially in light of the recent (and rather sensational) news articles that e-book readers are just as bad as tablets and smartphones when it comes to lighting. In 2015, a study was published on the effect of e-book readers on the circadian rhythm (even note that the previously mentioned pioneer of circadian rhythm research, Dr. Czeisler, is one of the authors).
What many news outlets overlook in their quest to report on this issue, however, is that the e-readers used in the study emitted light and were more tablet-like than the e-ink readers you are probably more familiar with. Take away? Don’t read books on your iPad or Kindle Fire before bed. Read books on a regular Kindle or other e-ink reader under the same conditions you would read in a regular paper book.
Warm up your screens
If your reaction to the previous suggestion that you turn off all screens before bed is akin to us when you suggest simply tucking your eyelids shut to solve your sleep problems, then perhaps a compromise is needed.
RELATED:Reduce eye strain and improve sleep by using f.lux on your computer
While the evidence is very strong that any exposure to light in the evening can lead to a loss of the internal clock, probably the biggest problem is the blue spectrum of light. Because of this, you can tame the effects of blue light on your body by warming the color temperature of the screens around you.
On your computer, we can’t recommend f.lux — the app shifts the color temperature so everything looks warmer (or redder). It’s not great for photo editing where colors need to be accurate, but it’s great for reducing blue light. Android users will find that the Twilight app on Android works just like f.lux on computers (although f.lux was recently released for rooted Android phones as well). F.lux is available on iOS if you’re jailbroken, but all iOS users will get a built-in solution soon. iOS 9.3 includes a Night Shift mode that supports color temperature shifting.
All of the above apps, including the fourth feature in iOS 9.3, include scheduling that lets you set your screens to automatically change from blue to red tone lighting every night.
Even if some or all of your devices don’t support color shifting (like your HDTV), you can get around all this with a pair of yellow-tinted glasses to turn off blue light. Growing concern about blue light exposure means that such glasses are inexpensive and readily available — for example, the currently best-selling reading glasses on Amazon are an $18 pair of blue light filter glasses.
Warm up your fires
The last and quite traditional solution you might want to consider is simply warming up the tone of your lighting. This could mean replacing the bulbs in your full spectrum bedroom with «warm white» light bulbs (these will be labeled as 2700K color temperature).
This also means avoiding very bright blue-white lights, such as crisp work lights and fluorescent overhead lighting. For example, if you spend a lot of time in your basement break room every evening and that room is brightly lit with office-style fluorescent lights, then you might consider adding a few floor and table lamps to the room to reduce the intensity of the light. light and warm it with warm white bulbs.
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For those of you who are thinking about getting smart bulbs, we really like our color changing tint bulbs for this very reason. In the morning, when we want to be awake and alert, the lamps show a clear blue-white light.
At night, when we want to relax and fall asleep, they are set to warm white light. What’s more, you can use your smart bulb system as a sunrise alarm clock — perfect for fine-tuning your circadian rhythm on the other side of your sleep cycle.
If you not playing on your gadgets all night or not doing your favorite shows until midnight, it doesn’t seem like the most fun thing in the world, nor does lack of consistent sleep and poor health as a result. Having a small bedroom and a gadget to set up, as well as putting gadgets to bed long before you go there yourself, will help you get a good night’s sleep.