How does blue light affect sleep and what can you do about it?

August 24, 2020

Learn how the blue light from electronics can affect your sleep

A woman bathed in blue light from her phone

Blue light is everywhere; it's part of the spectrum of light that shines from the Sun, but it also glows out of our electronic screens, like phones, TVs, and computer monitors. In nature, it's an essential part of life on our planet. However, when it comes from a laptop we're reading before bed, it can have negative consequences for your sleep. So how does blue light affect your sleep and what can you do about it? Today, we'll illuminate the subject so read on!

A world of blue light

If you've ever gone to purchase light bulbs, you may have noticed that the brightest, whitest lights might be called "sunlight." These blue-toned lights replicate the light of the sun. However, sunlight and light bulbs aren't the only source of blue light. Many of our electronic devices use LED lights, which can emit high quantities of blue light, as well as other wavelengths.

Because blue light is a part of the Sun's rays, it naturally comes with a lot of benefits. It can help you be energetic, attentive, and alert - which is great during the day! It also makes images bright and clear, producing more vivid and realistic colors, which is both pleasing to the eye and easy to read. This is why televisions, laptops, and phones often focus on using blue light over other colors. To be clear, screens use many colors of light, but are frequently more focused on blue. 

However, blue light is not without a number of downsides. Because blue light replicates aspects of the Sun, it makes your body "feel" like it's still daytime. This can throw off your natural sleep cycle, often called your "circadian rhythm." When your eyes are exposed to blue light for extended periods of time, your body is tricked into thinking it needs to be alert, which reduces the amount of the sleep-inducing chemical, called melatonin, in your body. As you can imagine, if you're exposed to too much for too long before you go to sleep, it can make falling asleep difficult. It may make you feel like your thoughts are racing, or like you just can't "turn off."

The dangers of sleep deprivation

As we've discussed in previous blogs, sleep is incredibly important and getting good sleep is one of the most essential habits for a healthy lifestyle. A lack of sleep can cause issues with concentration, and may lead to increased levels of anxiety and depression. People who don't get enough sleep often feel irritable during their day-to-day lives, and may notice other health consequences down the road, too. A lack of sleep has been found to be a major contributor to a number of illnesses, both physical and mental.
Regardless of its importance, many people struggle with their sleep every night and it's becoming more and more prevalent. Blue light is certainly not the only reason for this, but it is a new and growing issue to be sure. Many people don't realize just how much time they spend looking at blue light-producing screens, especially before bed. Fortunately, reducing the amount of blue light you're exposed to before bed is one of the easiest ways to try and improve your sleep quality. 

Improving sleep and reducing blue light

So, blue light is nearly everywhere, and it can cause issues with your sleep. Luckily, there are many things you can do to reduce the amount of blue light you experience. It might take some getting used to, and it certainly requires being conscious of how and when you use electronics. However, with a little practice, some of the following methods may help you get better sleep. 

Limiting use of electronics before bed. This is the most obvious solution, but not necessarily the easiest to get in the habit of doing. For the best results, try to limit your electronic use at least two to three hours before bed. Apart from reducing your exposure to blue light before bed, it can also help you relax your mind and disconnect from the events of the day.

Downloading blue light filtering apps. For many of us, reading books or watching shows on our devices actually can help us wind down, so limiting use might be difficult. Fortunately, if this is the case for you, there are apps that can be installed on phones, tablets, and computers that limit blue light. Generally, they work by shifting the colors your device displays, limiting the amount of blue light while increasing less disruptive colors.

Using blue light settings on your device. Many TVs, computer monitors, and other devices today come with their own blue light settings. Some of them can even automatically turn on at night or when they detect low light environments. You can usually tell when this mode has activated as the colors will shift and and have a more red, orange, or sepia tone.

Changing your lights. As discussed, many newer, energy-efficient bulbs, such as LEDs, feature large amounts of blue light even if they don't necessarily look blue. If you have bright lights such as these, consider changing them to bulbs with warmer tones. It's also important to turn them off before you try and go to sleep. 

Reducing blue light sources in your bedroom. There are many reasons some people suggest leaving TVs out of your bedroom, and the blue light they can produce is one of them. However, if you enjoy watching TV to unwind at night, simply be conscious of the fact that it may be making it difficult for you to fall asleep and turn it off a bit before you're ready to do so. 

Purchasing smart lights for your home. While some LED lights are a single color, some bulbs can be made to emit any color. Furthermore, "smart lights" might give you the option to set schedules for different hues. This allows you to set them to warmer colors in the evening, and ramp them up to brighter blue colors in the morning to match your sleep schedule.

Buying blue light-blocking glasses. Blue light-blocking glasses are a new trend that may help your eyes filter the blue light from electronics. Some experts claim they are quite helpful, while others are still skeptical. Either way, they are an inexpensive option, which means you can pick up a pair and try them yourself!

Not only can these options improve your sleep and potentially your stress levels, but many of them can also reduce eye strain. Of course, taking care of your health is about more than just taking care of your sleep — but it's a fantastic first step.

A man reading his phone in bed at night

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Read more: The Sun and its rays produce a lot of energy. Capturing it can help us save on our energy costs, but are solar panels covered by homeowners insurance? Read our blog to learn more!

by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Specialist at Germania Insurance.