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Screen Time Affecting Your Sleep? How To Reduce Exposure To Blue Light At Night

We are always surrounded by technology. The phones we use to interact with people, the laptops/monitors we use for work and even the television/kindles we use for our entertainment. But over the past few years their use has skyrocketed especially during COVID-19.

During COVID-19, research was conducted in India on the use of digital gadgets. It was found that 93.6% of respondents reported an increase in their screen time since the lockdown and the total usage per day was found to be 8.65 ± 3.74 hours. The study also showed a negative impact on eye health and increase in sleep disturbances. The culprit is not the gadgets themselves, but the light that they emit, called blue light.

But what exactly is blue light, and is it only emitted by screens we can’t seem to keep our eyes off?

We are surrounded by electromagnetic energy. Of this, we can see a very small portion with a naked eye. This is known as visible light. This visible light consists of seven primary colors and their varying mixtures. Blue light consists of small but powerful energy waves. They are naturally occurring particles emitted from the sun that scatter in our atmosphere. This is also how we see the sky as blue. This natural blue light has many benefits to our health such as:
1. Regulating our sleep cycle
2. Increasing awareness and cognitive performance
3. Improving reaction time
4. Elevating mood and feeling of wellbeing

But with advancement in technology, we are surrounded by this light through our gadgets as well as fluorescent bulbs and LED lights that emit these throughout the day and at night.

Blue light from the sun helps us remain alert and active. It also allows our body’s circadian rhythm to adjust to our body’s requirements during the day. As the sun goes down, and the amount of naturally occurring blue light temporarily diminishes, our body releases melatonin so that we can get adequate rest. But when we use gadgets at night, our body continues to be exposed to blue light, which impacts our circadian rhythm. Blue light at night keeps our body alert, reduces the production of melatonin and can increase the chances of sleep disorders as the body’s natural rhythm is broken. Some studies also suggest that exposure to blue light at night can lead to mental health issues such as depression.

Although we can’t remove technology from our lives, there are some things one can do to limit the use and lead a healthier life.

First of all, make sure you have a comfortable mattress and pillow to sleep on. We tend to associate watching something or reading something on the phone, iPad or laptop at night as a relaxing activity. But, if the bed we sleep on is uncomfortable, no amount of relaxation will help. Get a memory foam pillow and a memory foam mattress so the day’s stress begins to melt away the moment you get into bed.

Additionally, try these hacks:
1. Use lenses which protect the eyes from the light emitted from screens
2. Reduce screen brightness. This can prevent screen use from interfering with the secretion of melatonin
3. Smartphones/kindles also have a night mode option which emits yellow light instead of blue. Always use this at night.
4. Stopping the use of devices 1-2 hours before sleep can help reduce exposure and get better sleep
5. Use lamps and lights that emit yellow light instead of white light. If you use a nightlight, it's better to go for dim red, green or yellow light.

Bluelight benefits our mental and physical health, but when we prolong the use of gadgets which emit these, it can lead to sleep disturbances which can lead to fatigue, tiredness, irritability, decreased cognitive performances like attention, decision making, memory and so on. Sleep disturbances can also cause sleep disorders like insomnia or disorders like depression.

The goal isn’t to stop using gadgets altogether but to manage their use effectively. This will help us use the gadgets more resourcefully and also prevent any adverse health impact they may cause.

Resources
1. http://www.bluelightexposed.com/where-is-blue-light-found#:~:text=Natural%20blue%20light%20versus%20artificial,makes%20the%20sky%20look%20blue.
2. https://www.healthline.com/health/what-is-blue-light#blue-light-benefits
3. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/bedroom-environment/blue-light
4. https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/light-therapy#How-light-therapy-works-to-treat-depression
5. https://mhanational.org/blog/how-blue-light-affects-mental-health

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