Computer screen madness by Ossian Engmark/Freeimages

Do Screens Sabotage Sleep?

Electronic screens and some light blubs emit a super-concentrated light aka blue light that has been shown to suppress melatonin—the hormone that determines our sleep and wake cycles. And there is a theory that amber light or lens—such as the ones used in blue-blocking glasses—may negate this.

However, there hasn’t been enough research done on these amber-shades of rays to say that they will help you sleep better,  James Phelps, PhD, who studies lights effect on sleep and mood, told me when I interviewed him. While early research is promising, the truth is: their effect on sleep needs to be studied more—something that researchers at the University of North Carolina are doing.

Most of that promising research has been done on teenage boys playing video games. Swedish researchers looked into whether the use of blue light-blocking glasses (BB) during the evening, while sitting in front of a computer screen, helps sleep by monitoring thirteen 15- to 17-year old boys for two weeks. The boys wore BB or clear lens glasses for one week each, during the evening hours while using a computer. After each week, they went to the lab during evening hours and wore the same glasses while being exposed to computer screens. Researchers recorded salivary melatonin, subjective sleepiness, vigilant attention as well as subsequent sleep.

In the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers reported that compared to the clear lenses, the BB glasses weakened the affect of  LED-induced melatonin suppression in the evening, and decreased vigilant attention and subjective alertness before bedtime. They concluded:

BB glasses may be useful in adolescents as a countermeasure for alerting effects induced by light exposure through LED screens and therefore potentially impede the negative effects modern lighting imposes on circadian physiology in the evening.

So while science is still trying to figure out the effect of blue light blocking,  monitor your monitor use. Keep screens—tablet, smartphone, and others—at least 14 inches from your face to minimize the light’s melatonin suppressing effect, suggests Mayo Clinic researchers who studied the distance and brightness of screens on melatonin production.

You can also do what I started to do after researching this subject:  Lower the brightness setting on my computer screen to the lowest setting and try to avoid screens at least an hour before bedtime. I have also installed the app, f.lux on my Mac, and Twilight on my Android, both of which cast amber hues on my screen as it gets later at night and closer to bedtime.

And if you still want to try those blue-blocking glasses, look for ones that block 100% of the relative blue light, like ones made by Uvet. This might be my next step.

If you want to read more about the effects of bluelight from screens are doing to our eyes, read this GigaOm article.

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