Could blue light blocking glasses be the key to your getting a great night's sleep?
I work as a nurse in the ER of a hospital that doesn't sleep (literally)… and currently I work the mid-late shift. Being surrounded by bright lights and computer screens into the late hours of the evening have taken a noticeable toll on my health and ability to sleep once I finally get home to my sweet, precious pillow. The crazy thing is I'm usually very tired, but for some reason lately it seems like my brain can't shut off.
At first I thought maybe it was just because my body was adjusting to a later schedule, which was partially true. But, after some reflection, and realizing I was having similar issues at home even when I didn't have to stay up late… I began to think something else may be at play here. This phenomenon (of being dog tired, but unable to sleep) doesn't just happen to night-shift healthcare workers (although they are at increased risks of complications because of this)…
Have you ever found yourself staying up way later than you had anticipated while watching TV, or found it harder to settle your mind and fall asleep while scrolling through your favorite social media scene on your smart phone?
What exactly is going on there?
Well, for one thing, all of these scenarios and devices (bright lights in workplaces, computer screens, smart phones, TVs, & tablets) have something in common… they all emit blue light.
What's the deal with blue light, and is it harmful to your health?
Well, yes and no.
Blue light (preferably the natural kind that you get outside, aka: Sunlight) is actually beneficial to your health when experienced at the right time of day. It signals the brain that it's time to be awake, and gets you going. However, being exposed to blue light at night-time sends signals to the brain that can alter your body's circadian rhythm and get you off track for what's natural and healthy.
The time of day that you get exposure to blue-light is key here… first thing in the morning is perfect, and as a general rule of thumb, exposure should be decreased (if not completely eliminated) after sun down.
The Melatonin ~ Circadian Rhythm Connection
While light of any kind can suppress the secretion of melatonin (the hormone that helps regulate sleep cycles), blue light does so more powerfully. Harvard researchers conducted an experiment comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light versus exposure to green light of comparable brightness. The blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much (3 hours for blue light vs. 1.5 hours for green). (source)
Researchers are finding increasingly that an out-of-phase circadian rhythm is a health hazard. Maintaining synchronized circadian rhythms is important to health and well-being. A growing body of evidence suggests that having your circadian rhythm out of whack may play a role in various cancers, diabetes, obesity, depression, and cardiac issues.
As seemingly insignificant as it can seem, exposure to blue light at night time is a health hazard we should attempt to avoid if at all possible.
Blue Light and Macular Degeneration
There is also concern that blue light exposure can contribute to the development of age-related macular degeneration or cataracts. I haven't done extensive research on this subject, but from what I understand, it seems that melanin protects the eyes from the effects of harmful blue light (the same way it protects the skin from harmful UV light rays. As we age, our bodies naturally have a reduced amount of protective melanin. However, at least one study suggests that blue light can actually expedite this process by causing oxidative stress to the outer retina, which is known to contribute to the development of age-related macular degeneration.
How to counteract the negative effects of blue light with blue light blocking glasses
The reality of our situation is, that whether by choice or by necessity, you will likely be exposed to blue light in the evening. Thankfully, there are things you can do decrease the negative effects that are simple and practical, and can make a huge difference!
Use low-level (or red tinted bulbs in) lamps at night
Red light has the least power to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin. Overhead lighting (particularly fluorescent & LED bulbs) are higher in blue-light. I am lucky to have an office to work in, and am grateful to have the ability to turn off the overhead lights in the evening and just use our green desk lamps. It has made a significant difference, and surprisingly didn't put me to sleep while at work (which could have created another pressing problem!). We do the same thing in our home at night, and use low-level lamps and/or Himalayan salt lamps in the evenings to aid any lighting needs we have.
Expose yourself to lots of bright light (natural sunlight is best) during the day…
…which will boost your ability to sleep at night, as well as your mood and alertness during the day. I mentioned earlier that blue-light during the day is actually really helpful and healthy. In fact, several studies have been done on the effects of blue-light to treat depressive disorders, and found consistently positive results. Exposing your eyes and skin to sunlight in the mornings signals your body that it's time to get moving, and can give you a boost to get through the day. I like to step outside in the mornings for a bit, even when it's cold, to get my hit of sunshine… it's quite invigorating!
Avoid looking at bright screens (ie: anything i-related, computers, & TVs) 2-3 hours before hitting the hay
All of these electronic devices emit a generous amount of blue-light and have been shown to lead to certain insomnia disorders. If for some reason you have to use electronic devices at night, consider wearing blue light blocking glasses.
**Blue Light Blocking Glasses**
So, if you are a night-shift worker, or a blogger, or a mom who FINALLY gets to scroll through Pinterest in peace after the kiddos go down for the night… you are probably well aware that avoiding blue light at night is practically impossible. That's why I started looking into other alternatives. When I found this article from Wellness Mama on wearing her orange sunglasses at night, I was pretty excited, but still a little skeptical. But friends, let me tell you…
My goofy orange glasses have changed my life.
I may or may not get the occasional eyebrow raise from the doctors who come to speak with me in the evenings while I'm wearing my amber-tinted glasses, but the brief moment of feeling a bit silly is totally worth it (and also gives me an opportunity to tell them about the benefits!).
When I put them on in the evenings, it seriously feels like my eyes say “aaaahh”. They work by blocking blue light, and give an orange-y hue to the world around you (which can be a little bit annoying, but is Totally worth it!).
I have noticed a significant improvement in my ability to sleep as soon as I get home, and it's not surprising, since studies have proven this awesomeness to be true!
Amber (or orange) tinted lenses have been shown to block the effects of blue-light, and allow for melatonin production to be uninhibited… thus improving sleep quality! I also wear them at home, and have noticed that I am much more apt to go to bed at a reasonable time than when I forget or choose not to wear them.
Here's a link to the blue light blocking glasses I use and recommend.
I've looked at more expensive pairs, and I know you can even get prescription ones, but these work great and are inexpensive!
What do you think about wearing blue light blocking glasses at night to decrease your exposure to the harmful effects of blue light?
P.S. Blue light blocking glasses are good for active toddlers and husbands too! … here's proof! 😉