Can Blue Light mess with your sleep?
As an avid reader using my IPAD, I questioned the validity of this statement. Mostly because I do not want to give up reading on my tablet, but there is no denying that I suffer from sleep problems. After scrolling through lots of research, here is what we found to be factual based on today’s science.
Besides internal body temperature, light is the single most important trigger our body uses to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. As the lights go down, our body naturally releases a hormone called melatonin which tells our body it is time for sleep.
While we may not believe that the light emitted from our computers or tablets is enough to mess with our system, it apparently is. Added to the continued emitting light, there is also a stimulating effect of scrolling through social media, watching videos, etc.
What exactly is blue light?
Did you know that sunlight is the primary source of blue light? Blue light has a shorter wavelength, so it produces more energy. It can boost alertness and brain function—all things we want to happen during the day but not so much at night. Computers, IPads, smartphones, other digital devices and fluorescent lighting emit small amounts of artificial blue light. Although it is only a fraction of what is emitted by the sun, the amount of time and proximity to the screens has eye doctors concerned, and there is growing concern about our mental health.
The interruption of sleep is because the brain doesn’t distinguish between blue light from the sun and blue light from our devices, so it self-trains or tricks itself into staying alert, causing disrupted sleep patterns. When the sleep patterns of people who read from a traditional book before bed were compared to those who read from an e-reader, the research found that people who used e-readers had shorted REM sleep (deep rapid eye movement sleep).
REM sleep is one of the sleep stages associated with dreaming and memory. REM sleep also referred to as deep sleep, is vital for cell restoration, repair of muscle tissue and bone and strengthening of the immune system. Subsequently, not getting enough REM sleep can affect your cognitive performance during the day. It negatively impacts your focus, concentration and ability to retain information. It also negatively impacts your immune health, making you more susceptible to colds, flu etc. Inadequate amounts of REM sleep have also been associated with blood pressure, heart ailments, diabetes and chronic obesity.
The increase of blue light late into the night also disrupts the body’s natural production of melatonin, the hormone that flicks the switch from day to night and awake to sleep.
How does melatonin work?
As the sun sets and the skies darken, the melatonin produced in our bodies (pineal gland) starts to rise. It will continue to increase and stay higher throughout the night. You may get sleepy for 1-2 hours before retiring to bed. A sure sign that melatonin is rising.
An excellent example of melatonin at work is during time changes (daylight savings time). You may notice yourself feeling more tired during the winter months, which we often blame on the time shift. That is partially true, but it has more to do with the increase of melatonin earlier in the darker evenings than the loss of one hour on the clock.
When the morning light starts to seep in, the production decreases, and you slowly come out of your slumber. If, along this spectrum, you introduce a device that emits light, you break the cycle, and sleep patterns are disrupted.
Melatonin is not just for sleep.
- Several studies have suggested that melatonin might help with the eye diseases such as glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. The exact cause of the benefit is still under review, but it may be due to the reduction of inflammation and oxidative stress that melatonin supports
- Melatonin has been shown to have a positive influence on blood sugar and insulin and, therefore, possibly prevent and manage type II diabetes and metabolic syndrome
- Melatonin plays an essential role in regulating blood pressure by widening the blood vessels throughout the circadian rhythm.
- Clinical research is still ongoing to support the relationship between melatonin and gut health, more specifically, GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease)
- Melatonin appears to be a factor in “turning on” the activity of T-cells, a particular type of white blood cell, and enhancing the function of T-cell helper lymphocytes.
- Melatonin is a special “clean” antioxidant, meaning it can protect cells without triggering the production of free radicals.
Tips for Better Sleep
- Bright lights of any kind can negatively impact your internal clock. So dim the lights in your home as you wind down and use the setting on your devices to manipulate the brightness for the nighttime settings to warm up the backlight on your screens.
- Stop scrolling the internet, social media, etc., at least 30 minutes before bed and even if you wake up in the middle of the night, train yourself to stay off the interactive internet. The overstimulation and sometimes agitation can further interrupt your sleep patterns by increasing your stress hormones.
- If you are using your device to help you fall asleep, set a timer so the device will shut off/
- If you use your device to read at night or fall asleep, consider turning your book into an audiobook. Keep the light of your device away from you and listen to your book. The soothing sounds of the voiceovers may just become your new sleep habit.
- Choose a consistent wake time and stick to it. Wake with enough time to have a full day and be ready for bedtime. This helps solidify your circadian rhythm and creates other sleep triggers for your body.
- Expose yourself to bright lights early and often during the day. This promotes wakefulness during the day and drowsiness at night. Spend time outdoors whenever possible.
Supplements to support Your Blue Light Habits
Even if we know the impacts of blue light on sleep, many of us may not be willing to forgo our nighttime device habit. If so, consider supplementing with melatonin.
Melatonin comes in various forms and dosages, from liquid to sublingual capsules and gummies. You can get dosages at low as 1 mg all the way up to 10 mg, so where do you start?
Time-released melatonin supplements are best for people that tend to wake up in the middle of their sleep cycle rather than the levels peaking at the start of sleep and dropping off too early.
If you struggle to fall asleep, consider a sublingual standard-release tablet. This option is suggested for shift workers, seniors and children that need the extra push to fall asleep. It will give you the extra melatonin level at the beginning to help you slumber off into your deep sleep.
The most recommended dosage is 3mg to start moving to 5mg if needed. It can take up to 30 minutes to reach its peak in your bloodstream so take it about 30-60 minutes before you want to sleep . Melatonin in a 10mg dosage would be more recommended as a slow release option.
There are some possible side effects to melatonin, so it is always recommended to start your dosage off smaller and only work up to a larger dose if needed. Melatonin may cause morning drowsiness if you take it too late in the night and are forced awake by an alarm etc., after only a few hours of sleep. It can also cause more intense dreams in some people, which can be unnerving initially. Melatonin may stay active in the body longer in older adults, so be aware of their morning drowsiness which does wear off.
As with all dietary supplements, people taking medications should consult their healthcare providers before using melatonin. In particular, people with epilepsy and those taking blood thinner medications need to be under medical supervision when taking melatonin supplements.
Melatonin Supplements to Give a Try