The Secret Science Behind Blue Light

For many of us, winding down at the end of the day means settling in with a great movie on TV, lounging around and doing some online shopping or social media scrolling, or curling up in bed with a book on your e-reader (or maybe even catching up on some of the fantastic blog posts from the Enrollment Specialists).

This can add up to a lot of time spent in the evenings in front of screens. And leading researchers believe that all of this exposure to screen time at night could be causing some serious problems, largely due to blue light.

You may have heard that the faint blue light given off by our mobile phones, laptops, and e-readers may be harmful to your health. There are many stories and accounts circulating about this topic right now, claiming that exposure to blue light may be affecting our sleep cycles and creating other health problems. But what many of us don’t really know is why this new, energy efficient type of light may be having a negative effect on our health.

We think it’s time to shed some light on the topic of blue light. So, let’s talk about the secret science behind blue light, and see what effects increasing our exposure to blue light may be having on our bodies.

The Power of Blue Light

Humans perceive the color blue within the color spectrum differently than we do other colors. Due to its short wavelength, blue appears relatively bright to human eyes, making it one of the most energy-efficient colors of light to produce. The bright bluish light emitted by high-intensity LED lights increases visibility, while using less energy. As a result, blue light is now used in many man-made tech products. But blue light’s brightness may be part of the reason why it may have negative side effects, including causing some people to experience fewer hours of sleep.

Studies have indicated that exposure to this light suppresses the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that influences our circadian rhythms. The concern over blue-colored light is that it seems to have the ability to reset our bodies’ natural circadian rhythms by signaling the photoreceptors in our body to think that it is daylight.

For example, in one experiment, Harvard researchers compared the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light against the same exposure to green light. Researchers discovered that the blue light “suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light, and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much (3 hours vs. 1.5 hours),” according to a report from Harvard Health Publishing.

Another prominent study suggested that people who used an e-reader at night saw their evening melatonin levels drop by 55 percent after five days. It also took e-reader users longer to fall asleep, and they reported greater grogginess in the mornings, as compared to paper book readers. Similar studies have found similar effects in teenagers. For younger people, just two hours of blue light exposure a night decreased melatonin levels by 38 percent.

In practical terms? This may mean that exposing yourself to blue light at night means that you’ll get less sleep overall, and less restful sleep to boot. And the negative health effects of not getting enough sleep can be severe. Researchers have linked not getting sufficient sleep with an increased risk for developing:

  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular problems

“The more research we do, the more evidence we have that excess artificial light at night can have a profound, deleterious effect on many aspects of human health,” says Charles Czeisler, PhD, MD, the director of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School. “It is a growing public health concern.”

The Blue Light Special

Of course, it’s important to remember that blue light isn’t, in and of itself, bad. It is naturally occurring, and sunlight is, in fact, the main source of blue light that we encounter. Being outdoors during the day is where we receive most of our blue light exposure. And during the daylight hours, blue light within natural light is beneficial for our health.

As Dr. Gary Heiting writes for All About Vision:

“It’s well documented that some blue light exposure is essential for good health. Research has shown that high-energy visible light boosts alertness, helps memory and cognitive function and elevates mood.”

Blue light has also been shown to help treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depressive state that is related to seasonal changes. The shorter wavelengths of blue light can also penetrate the skin, making it an effective tool in treating neonatal jaundice. Similarly, blue light has been found to help lend a helping hand with certain sleep disorders, jetlag, and premenstrual syndrome.

So why do we pick on blue? The issue, many researchers say, is that we are simply more exposed to blue light than ever before, thanks to our tech devices. This is especially true after sundown.

“As opposed to the many other kinds of harmful environmental pollutants out there, we are rapidly figuring out exactly what to do about this one,” says Richard Stevens, PhD, a University of Connecticut cancer epidemiologist and light-at-night researcher. The solution? Dim the lights at night, tone down the blue, and get as much healthy daytime light exposure as you can.

Battling the Blue

Here are a few ideas to help you start beating the potentially harmful effects of blue light at night:

Tips for minimizing blue light exposure

So, broadly speaking? Try to limit your exposure to blue light after sundown, and take measures to safeguard your circadian rhythms.

Another idea may be to get as much natural light as you can during the daytime. Maximizing the amount of bright light we get during the day may just help us sleep more soundly at night.

“It not only makes you more awake and alert by day; research suggests it may also make you less sensitive to the negative health consequences of light at night,” explains Mariana Figueiro, PhD, light and health program director at the Lighting Research Center.

For more insights and tips, be sure to check out our fantastic article on battling blue light in our seasonal newsletter, The Swell. You can find past issues of this great health, wellness, and insurance resource right here.

About the Enrollment Specialists

Here at the Enrollment Specialists, we’re passionate about all things health and wellness, including helping you find the health and life insurance policy that will help you sleep easy every night.

Our founder and CEO, Matt Peebles, is a health insurance superhero. One of the top health and life insurance consultants in the country, Matt truly gets to understand the wants and needs of each of his clients. He gets specific in his thinking, and uses every tool at his disposal to help individuals, families, and businesses customize the insurance policies that will truly work for them, always making sure their costs are minimized while their coverage is at its peak.

And even after you enroll, Matt will always be just a quick email or phone call away, ready to help for the entire life of your policy. You’ll always be able to say, “I Got A Guy” for all things health and life insurance.

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