How does blue light affect your melatonin?
You’ve probably heard about the damaging effects blue light has on our sleep patterns but what does that really mean? Isn’t blue light natural and we need exposure to it? What type of blue light then is hurting us? And how do I protect myself from it?
Read on to learn how blue light is having detrimental effects on your melatonin levels and as a consequence, your sleep.
Blue light explained
There is natural and there is artificial blue light and we experience both of them daily.
Natural light consists of a full spectrum of colors. The natural light, as in sunlight, is a well-balanced spectrum of all the colors, working together in harmony, blue light being an important component of this natural light. We are exposed to this light daily, even on cloudy, rainy days.
The other kind of light we are exposed to on a daily basis is artificial blue light, emitted by LED light bulbs and electronic devices - phones, tablets, computers, and TV’s. This light also contains the full spectrum of colors but with a major difference - the strengths of each color are inconsistent and lack the balance of sunlight. Both LED light bulbs and electronic devices emit very unnatural spikes of light, mainly blue and green, which are not balanced by the red and yellow colors.
You can see this clearly in these images below.
What is the problem with blue light?
Colors have different wavelengths, with blue being short and red being longer. The length determines their ability to carry energy; short carrying more energy, long carrying less. This is why blue light is also known as HEV - high energy visible light.
At the other end of the spectrum to blue is red and yellow light and these wavelengths are less energetic therefore have a calming effect.
In nature all the colors work in a coordinated manner, keeping each other in balance to produce full spectrum light.
Now the reason blue light is discussed in relation to our sleep is due to it being high energy, giving it the ability to penetrate deeper into our eyes. This is how we are designed, with our eyes the first line detectors that determine our sleep/wake cycles. When it’s light, blue light enters our eyes, gets registered by the photoreceptors, and our body is given the message that we should be awake. Then, as the light dims and darkness occurs, again our eyes take in this environmental information, the appropriate messages are sent around the body, activating the sleep cycle.
But what happens when our eyes can’t detect low light because they are being bombarded with artificial blue light?
First let’s talk about how melatonin works
As mentioned above, when our environment gets dark, receptors in our eyes register the light dimming, and this triggers a cascade of events within the body, one of them being the release of melatonin into the bloodstream. Melatonin is the way our body and brain is informed it’s time to sleep and activate restore mode.
Like so many other hormones, its cyclical throughout the day - reaching a peak after midnight, and its lowest point during the daytime.
If the eyes don’t register darkness then our body is not aware it should release melatonin. Without melatonin, we don’t feel sleepy.
Why don’t I feel sleepy after being awake for so long?
Our eyes can’t tell the difference between natural blue light and artificial blue light. All they register is the high energy wavelengths, regardless of their source. That’s useful for the day time when blue light is needed to keep us awake and alert, but damaging at night-time, when our eyes need darkness in order to activate melatonin release.
So it doesn’t matter if you’ve had a long day and feel physically tired, if you continue to expose yourself to blue light at night-time, and your eyes don’t experience darkness, then don’t be surprised that your body thinks it should stay alert.
It’s no different to eating artificial food and expecting your body to be healthy, despite not being fed adequate nutrition. A little bit of junk food is not going to damage you, but eat it on a daily basis and eventually you’ll feel the damaging effects. Artificial blue light is junk food to your eyes. If you are feeding it artificial blue light every night, which most of us do, then expect it to struggle maintaining a healthy rhythm, especially your sleep patterns which are directly affected by the light you are exposed to.
Now that you understand why blue light at night is damaging, here’s what you can do to protect yourself.
If you can live like our ancestors did - waking up with the sun, going to bed with the sun, only using fire as their source of light at night - then you will be in absolute sync with your body’s natural rhythms and aligned to nature, exactly as your body is designed to be.
So for everyone else living in the modern, digital world…there are some measures you can take to reduce the damaging effects that blue light is causing to your health.
- Turn off computers, TV’s, tablets, phones at least an hour before bedtime.
- Install red light bulbs in strategic places throughout the house (bedroom, bathroom, living room) which can be turned on after the sun has set. At the same time, turn off all the LED light bulbs.
- Remove LED night lights from your kids bedrooms and replace them with red night lights.
- Wear the most effective blue light glasses available, from sunset until you turn off the light for bed. The lenses must be able to block 100% of blue light from entering your eyes. Only glasses with a red tint infused into the lens (not just coated) are able to make this claim legitimately. Our glasses have been independently tested to ensure their effectiveness.
We designed our glasses to be stylish, not just functional, and made them with the highest quality materials available - lightweight Italian acetate frames, German engineered steel for strength, and scratch resistant CR-39 lenses for the best in clarity.
To find the right pair for you, check out our size chart or go directly to our collections.
Today we live a digital life surrounded by artificial light - during the day and night, from light bulbs or the electronics we stare at. Unless you disengage from modern day life altogether and live in the woods, there is no escaping it. That doesn’t mean there isn’t something we can do to counteract it and protect ourselves. The solution is both a behavioral and physical one. There is no doubt that the behavioral one is the toughest to implement. We might be able to convince ourselves to turn off electronics an hour before bedtime but it’s a bit harder to conduct our lives without light bulbs to see our surroundings. And going to bed soon after the sun sets is a hard one to follow, especially during winter when the light fades around 5pm or sooner in some places.
The most practical solution then is to wear protective gear. We don’t drive without a seat belt, and we know it’s safer to wear a helmet when biking, so why not wear glasses that protect us from the blue light entering our eyes in the first place.
Yes, not doing the things that harm us is the ideal…but if there is a solution without negative side effects or downsides, then it makes sense to give it a try.
For more resources
If you’d like more information about blue light and its effect on our health, check out our website.
For an in depth interview about the damaging effects blue light has on our melatonin, listen to the conversation with Brad Kearns on the Primal Blueprint podcast.
If you'd like to know how to increase your melatonin levels naturally through wholesome food, read our article Can melatonin levels be increased with food?