What You Really Need to Know About Blue Light

  • Written By:Dr. Will Cole
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By now we’ve all heard about the negative effects of too much blue light. But do any of us really know what blue light is? In my telehealth functional medicine clinic, I take a comprehensive look at the entirety of a person's health. This goes beyond food and includes lifestyle factors like screen time to determine things that could be impacting someone's overall wellbeing. And blue light is one of these factors that can often be overlooked.

What is blue light?

Blue light is just one color of visible light rays that is emitted by the sun. Ever wonder why the sky is blue? You can thank blue light for that. In fact, your body relies on cues from your environment to tell you what time it is. That’s why, in its natural state, blue light from the sun signals to your body that it is now morning and that you should feel awake and refreshed.

On the other hand, blue light from electronics continually sends signals to your brain that it’s daylight. This inhibits melatonin production in the evenings after the sun sets when you should be winding down.

Chronic exposure to blue light — especially in the evening — contributes to poor sleep quality since it inhibits melatonin production.

Why is blue light damaging

1. Sleep quality

Melatonin's main role is to regulate your sleep-wake cycle. It is supposed to be low in the morning when cortisol levels spike in order to help you wake up. As the day progresses, melatonin levels increase as cortisol levels decrease, culminating in a surge of melatonin in the evening to help you fall asleep. Therefore, chronic exposure to blue light — especially in the evening — contributes to poor sleep quality since it inhibits melatonin production.

One study showed that those who were exposed to blue light screens had a shorter night's sleep and woke up multiple times throughout the night. The individuals also reported feeling more tired and cranky the next morning.

2. Immune health

Since melatonin is found in immune cells, an issue with melatonin levels due to blue light exposure can contribute to chronic inflammation and autoimmunity. In fact, melatonin can reduce the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-6.

3. Eye health

While blue light is natural, our eyes are not used to the chronic exposure to artificial blue light that we have become accustomed to in our modern society. The majority of people stare at LED screens between 7-10 hours of each day. That’s approximately half of your total waking hours!

This has been shown to have an impact on the health of our eyes, causing damage to your retina and cornea leading to dry eyes and eye strain. Blue light exposure has also been linked to the rise in nearsightedness in children who have more screen time.

4. Skin health

Research has shown that exposure to blue light from electronic devices can contribute to oxidative stress and skin cell damage. This is not good for the appearance of your skin and can lead to premature aging. However, targeted blue light therapy has been shown to be beneficial for treating acne and other skin conditions. It all comes down to the source of your exposure.

How to protect yourself from the effects of blue light

While limiting screen time is the best way to avoid the effects of blue light, that’s not always realistic for everyone — especially for those who work on a computer all day in offices with incandescent bulbs and lack of exposure to sunlight.

1. Invest in blue light blocking glasses

Even if you have to stare at a screen more often than not, blue light blocking glasses are designed to help protect your eyes while looking identical to regular glasses. Studies have shown that wearing blue light blocking glasses can improve visual performance and sleep quality.

2. Wear amber colored glasses in the evening

Take it one step further and switch out your regular blue light blocking glasses for amber colored glasses a few hours before bed as they filter out more blue light than regular clear blue light glasses in order to help with your body’s natural melatonin production.

A study done by the Columbia University Medical Center found that amber colored glasses increase the sleep of insomnia patients by at least 30 minutes per night as well as increasing the quality of sleep.

2. Try supplementing

Zeaxanthin and lutein are two powerful antioxidants present in certain vegetables as well as your eyes themselves. Because of this, researchers believe that supplementing with these two nutrients can help support healthy eyes and vision quality. While additional studies need to be done, research has been favorable with little to no side effects. Foods like kale, brussels sprouts and broccoli are rich in these nutrients but you can also find supplements with both of these nutrients targeted specifically for supporting eye health.

3. Switch out your lightbulbs

If you can, whenever your incandescent bulbs burn out, switch over to LED bulbs with a warmer color range to cut out blue light in your home in the evenings.

4. Enable blue-light blocking filters

Most electronic devices have a night setting that allows you to adjust the amount of blue light emitted by your screen. You can also purchase blue light screen protectors for your phone, laptop, and other devices.

Thankfully, with the rise in technology we've also developed simple tools to help mitigate its effects on our health. By being proactive about our health we can help prevent problems before they occur.

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