Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen, University of Utah
You know the drill: you’re sleepy enough to want to head into bed but not sleepy enough to fall asleep right away. So you think to yourself, “What’s the harm? I’ll get comfy, hop into bed, and continue using my phone, or my laptop, or my tablet in bed. I’ll play some games or watch Netflix in a relaxing environment and then I’ll fall asleep better.” Is that your thought process, night after night?
If so, it’s wrong. Even if your bedroom is a relaxing environment, once you bring technology into it, it stops becoming so. And by and large, the culprit is blue light.
The visible spectrum of light is made up of a rainbow of colors, from red to violet. Blue light is also called High Energy Visible Light, and it’s on the spectrum of light that is from 380 to 500 nm. While it might seem like “just” one color, it actually represents a third of all visible light. And it is everywhere. You might be shocked to learn that even though the sun looks like it’s mostly an orange yellow color, it contains a large portion of blue light, which is one of the reasons why it is so bright to look at.
With this information, it’s easy to see why bringing technology into your bedroom would disrupt your brain’s ability to fall asleep. In essence, the blue light is tricking your eyes by making them think they’re seeing the sun. This in turn tells your brain that instead of it being time to fall asleep, it thinks “Hey, it’s morning!” Very sneaky.
What it also does is “delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin” and on top of that, alter your body’s natural circadian rhythm. This is the mechanism your body uses to know when it’s time to be awake (without coffee) and when it’s time to go to sleep.
But lying awake in bed until you fall asleep is boring. If you don’t want to just count sheep, what do you do?
With the advent of portable technology like cell phones and tablets, it has become virtually impossible to find someone who doesn’t go to sleep without some form of technology by their bedside. Those who find the act of falling asleep difficult use technology to help stave off boredom. With all of this research into how blue light from these devices negatively affects your sleep, a few resources have popped up to help ward off the effects.
While you obviously don’t want to filter out all the blue light in the world all the time, blue light-blocking glasses can prevent some of the blue light from your phone or tablet from getting to your eyes. This is achieved via a blue light Anti-Glare coating, which “reflects blue light off the front surface of the lenses.”
If you don’t want to invest in a pair of glasses, there are also several apps that claim to block blue light. So while there is debate about the effectiveness of these blue light-blocking technologies, if you want your brain to be cognizant of the fact that you’re actually trying to go to sleep, it might be worth giving one of them a go.