Why Is Blue Light Exposure Bad for Sleep?

Trouble falling asleep? Too much light may be to blame. 

Difficulty falling asleep can happen at any stage of life, but trouble falling asleep becomes increasingly common as people age. Hormonal changes from menopause, bladder control problems at night, and aches and pains are just a few causes of poor sleep in adults. And with sleep deprivation tied to memory troubles and health problems, it is essential to learn how to sleep better naturally. 

When you experience negative changes in your quality of sleep, good sleep hygiene might help. Even though sleep hygiene alone may not completely fix sleep issues, it can make a noticeable difference. One central aspect of sleep hygiene is limiting blue light exposure late in the day. 

Excess blue light exposure is one of the leading causes of insomnia and run-of-the-mill sleep difficulties. But what is blue light, and why does blue light make it harder to fall asleep (1)? We will answer these questions and explain how to reduce exposure so you can enjoy deeper, more restorative sleep.   

What Is Blue Light and Why Does Blue Light Keep You Awake?

Light has different wavelengths, and these various wavelengths impact our energy, mood, attention, and other cognitive functions. Blue light is the most stimulating wavelength. It helps us wake up in the morning, boosts our focus, and can even make us feel happier and more energetic. However, too much energizing light at night increases energy, making it hard to fall asleep. 

How Does Light Influence Our Sleep and Energy Levels?

Light and dark influence circadian rhythm, which is the internal clock that tells us when to wake up and when to go to sleep (2). Circadian rhythm also influences things like energy level and mood.  

Naturally, our blue light exposure should decrease as the sun sets. The gradual darkening signals our brains to release the hormone melatonin, also known as the sleep hormone. Melatonin tells our bodies and minds to slow down and get ready for sleep.  

Unfortunately, our way of life no longer mimics that of the natural world. When the sun goes down, we turn on bright lights, watch television, and stare at our phones. These artificial light sources emit blue light, damping melatonin release so we stay alert late into the night. The result? Our minds race and we toss and turn instead of falling asleep. 

How Can I Limit My Blue Light Exposure at Night?

The best way to support a healthy sleep schedule is by reducing artificial light exposure a few hours before bedtime. To do this, replace television and phone time with something that is not in front of a screen, like reading, doing a crossword puzzle, or spending time with family or friends. 

Another consideration is the lighting in your home and bedroom. In the hours after the sun sets, consider switching to small lamps with low wattage bulbs or utilize the low setting on a dimmable light. You may also choose bedroom lighting that emits a warm yellow light rather than a bright white one.  

For anyone who does not want to give up their nighttime screen time completely, we recommend blue light glasses. Blue light glasses filter out the energizing blue light wavelength so that you can go about your normal activities without the blue light energy boost. Amazon is a good resource for inexpensive blue light glasses, or your optometrist can provide other options. 

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