Having trouble winding down at night or falling asleep? Blue light might be the perpetrator. We have probably all heard the warnings about too much blue light and the effects it can have on our sleep, but you may not know the science of what is going on inside your eyes.
Blue light is everywhere — in fluorescent and LED light bulbs, even the sun — however the most important and relevant to Wellesley students is the blue light emitted from our computer and phone screens. To break the complicated science of blue light into its simplest terms, it is important to first understand how light is absorbed by our eyes and the effects it has on our body.
Special retinal cells in our eyes are extremely sensitive to light and are responsible for setting our internal sleep clock or “circadian rhythm.” The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is stimulated by light throughout the day and inhibits the pineal gland from producing melatonin. Once it is dark, or your eyes are not exposed to any more light, the melatonin is released which helps us fall asleep.
These special retinal cells are extremely sensitive to blue light, so when we are studying in spaces with large fluorescent lights or staring at our phone or computer screens for long periods of time, we are inhibiting and delaying the release of melatonin in our body. Blue light is actually beneficial during the day time. It increases attention, quickens reaction time, and overall boosts your mood — which is exactly why it’s such a bad thing when you are trying to fall asleep.
So what can you do to protect yourself from all this blue light? The easy answer, which comes across much like an older person telling you to “get off that cellphone all the time,” is to avoid screens two to three hours before bed. As college students, we recognize the complete infeasibility of that and press on for more answers. Almost all smartphones today have a “night shift” setting or adjustment to decrease the blue light on the screen and increase the amounts of red light, which has the least effect on circadian rhythm shifts and suppression of melatonin.
Another option students are turning to are blue light-blocking glasses to wear while using their screens. Juniors Autumn Brown and Jessica Budz report experiencing headaches and difficulty falling asleep after long days of homework and screen time, which caused them to look into protective glasses. Some eyewear options can reach up to $100, however Autumn says she found hers on Amazon for just $20. Understandably an annoying extra cost to students, but it may prove to be worth it if you are able to get better sleep and be more productive.
The last alternative should not be too much of an adjustment to one’s day and it’s quite simple: get as much exposure to light as you can during the day! If you are exposed to bright light throughout the day, it will not only help you stay more focused and alert, but also help the secretion of melatonin come night time. So take that walk around the lake, or do a reading outside, it may just be the difference in helping protect your eyes and also getting a better night’s sleep.