Forget What You Think You Know About Blue Light and Sleep

macbook half closed emitting lightPhoto by Wesson Wang on Unsplash

A few decades ago, it was common for people to blame a sleepless night on a good book, a long telephone conversation, or a movie marathon with friends or family. But now, when you see those long, tired faces at work, you’ll hear a lot of people say they had too much blue light. They’ll also tell you that since they were exposed to too much of it, they couldn’t sleep well even though they were tired. 

Blue light always gets a bad rap when it comes to sleep. It seems like everyone blames it for those sleepless nights. But what do we really know about it and what makes it the culprit. 

Fact Check: About The Status Quo

Blue light is part of a more extensive spectrum of light that comes primarily from the sun. It shares space with the other colored wavelengths which are red, yellow, and orange which are the warmer in hue. Based on research that has revolutionized an industry of eye protection, blue light, which is considered important in keeping us energized during the day also prevents us from sleeping when we want to. 

What many don’t really know is that blue light isn’t really bad. It’s just that the effect of blue light is supposed to keep us up during the day and the absence of it during the night allows our body to produce melatonin. This hormone helps us get sleepy and tired so that our body and our mind relaxes into sleep. However, when we expose ourselves to too much of that blue light at night, our body fails to produce melatonin thus making it harder to fall asleep and even stay asleep.

It seems one thing that makes blue light difficult to avoid is that it’s everywhere. Even after the sun has gone down, our modern society has developed the technology to keep our environment lighted up. Now, we depend on it even during the night and unfortunately we suffer for it as well. Some artificial sources of light are:

  • Television
  • Smartphones/ Tablets
  • E-book Devices
  • Computer screens
  • Fluorescent and energy-efficient LED lights

Most of these sources can be consciously avoided however, if we were to revert back to the incandescent bulbs, society would compromise the efficiency that LED lights offer. Taking a backstep when we’ve moved forward would prove counterintuitive in any case. 

What’s Being Tested?

As the study of blue light and how it affects sleep is constantly influx so too is research disproving it. One such study recently published was from a group in the University of Manchester which discredits that blue light causes melatonin inhibition. They instead point out that blue light mimics twilight more and that the warmer hues are more likened to the daytime colors of the sun. 

So what does that all mean? It just means that blue light might not be the one keeping us awake at night. Further study is currently underway to prove this theory. 

Possible Causes For That Sleepless Night

Many possible reasons can be accounted for sleepless nights. Some may be considered minor and may just need self-care while others may need medical attention. But let’s just say that blue light isn’t just the only reason for not being able to sleep.

Causes of sleeplessness may include:

  • Aging

As people grow older they tend to sleep less. This has something to do with the hormone melatonin that the body produces less thereby resulting in fragmented sleep cycles. 

  • Internal Stimuli

The feeling of excitement after a great game or winning a competition may keep people up for a period of time. The brain may be overloaded with adrenaline that can lead to sleeplessness over a period of time.  Internal stimuli may be a mix of good stimuli and bad ones so a heartbreak can lead to sleepless nights as well. 

  • Too Much Caffeine

Coffee has become an integral part of the modern society. We depend on it to fuel our mornings and keep us awake. But too much of it or anything that has caffeine may lead to the inability to fall asleep. 

  • External Stimuli 

A noisy environment will probably not help a person sleep any better. Loud neighbors or the dog barking all night will jot only keep you awake, it'll probably also drive you nuts. 

  • Inability To Be Comfortable 

In order to sleep, human beings need to reach a point where they are relaxed enough. A relaxed body leads to a relaxed mind but oftentimes when the body isn’t comfortable enough, the mind can’t relax. Frequent urination, physical pain and sleep apnea may also lead to discomfort.

  • Sleeping Too Much

Having that afternoon nap or often napping in the day can cause sleepless nights. 

  • Medications 

Some medications have side effects that cause sleeplessness. 

Final Thoughts

The fact is too much research has compounded on blue light to refute its effect on modern society. Perhaps, when more time and research is given to disproving the negative effect of blue light on sleep it may be viewed as what it is - just a type of light. In the meantime, take everything you read with a grain of salt.