Most of us know that using mobile phones or e-readers before bed can disrupt our sleep cycles, but did you know there are other dangers associated with prolonged exposure to artificial light at night?
Recent research suggests that excess blue light exposure may be doing more than robbing you of a good night’s sleep, and could also increase your risk of cancer, obesity, and depression.
It’s important to understand why the blue light emitted from mobile devices affects your circadian rhythm. Typically, after awaking, people usually open the shades to let in the morning sunlight. Special cells in your eyes detect the natural light and signal your brain to shut off its production of melatonin. The physiological process doesn’t stop there—the morning light also signals cells to increase production of the stress hormone cortisol and a hunger-promoting hormone called ghrelin. The morning light also signals your body temperature and heart rate to rise.
In essence, the morning light allows your body to “reset” itself to prepare for the work ahead, which is exactly what’s supposed to happen in the early hours of the morning. However, this physiological resetting can sometimes occur at night, which is when things can start to go amiss.
Previous research has shown that people who use mobile phones, e-readers, or are exposed to LED lighting have increased appetite, took longer to fall asleep, experienced less restorative REM sleep, and were more tired the following day than those who did not use such devices before bedtime. Another study demonstrated where device users experienced a 55% drop in melatonin after only five days, which can be alarming because in addition to its sleep-inducing powers, melatonin has also been shown to be an anti-cancer agent.
While most of the recent research is too early to determine the true effect of blue light at night, scientists aren’t afraid to suggest that folks burning the midnight oil on their devices are more likely to be obese or suffer from heart disease. Other studies have linked late night workers to higher rates of both breast and prostate cancer.
So, in a world driven by technology, what can we do to ensure we’re getting the proper kind of sleep? Fortunately, there are several steps we can take that won’t require us to toss out our smartphones and computers. With a proper balance, we can have both!
The best advice public health gives us in this department is to power down those devices at a normal hour, or at least an hour before you go to bed (of course, the earlier the better).
Next, try reading an actual paper book before bed. Foregoing the artificial light from a phone or e-reader will signal your brain to begin producing melatonin at a decent hour to prepare your body for sleep.
Also, try purchasing energy-efficient light bulbs. Certain companies now produce bulbs that automatically change their hue depending on the time of day.
Finally, if you must use an electronic device before bed, purchase an app that allows your laptop or phone to emit blue light during the day and shifts to warmer wavelengths by evening. While this option isn’t as healthy as reading a traditional paper book, it should help your body to still produce some amounts of melatonin.