In today’s tech-driven world, with all the smartphones, iPads, Kindles, Facebook, TikTiok, Instagram, Twitter, Netflix, and flatscreens lighting up with new exciting information in front of our faces, it can be a challenge to close our eyes and actually get to sleep.
You know how it goes. You curl up in bed with your iPad, vowing to read just one chapter of “Where the Crawdads Sing.” The next thing you know, you’re Googling an ex to see who they’re dating now, reading the latest news headlines, watching recipe videos, and searching for a great take-out Thai restaurant in your neighborhood. By the time you finally power down your iPad, your eyes are wide open and you simply cannot fall asleep.
Looking at a screen at night is a surefire bedtime blocker, as most electronic device screens are made with light-emitting diode (LED) technology, a source of blue light. While blue light is all around us—the largest source is the sun—it becomes a problem when we get too much of it in the early evening and around bedtime.
Enter blue light blocking glasses. Also called blue light-filtering glasses, these specs have specially crafted lenses designed to reduce blue light while allowing the rest of the light spectrum to get through.
We know what you’re probably thinking: “Could wearing blue-light-blocking glasses let me have my iPad and get my shut-eye too?” We were wondering about that too.
What Does Blue Light Do to Our Eyes and to Our Sleep?
The fact that we wake up in the morning and fall asleep at night is pretty darn magical, but it’s no fluke. Certain cells in the eyes sense light and darkness. These cells tell the brain what’s going on outside in our environment so the brain can sync up our circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock.
Melatonin is not just a natural remedy that we can buy to help us fall asleep. It’s also a hormone made inside our bodies by the pineal gland. Melatonin signals to our bodies that it’s time to head to bed.
Our melatonin levels typically rise two hours before bedtime and begin to decrease during the morning hours, following the natural environment, says Dr. Bhavna Sharma, clinical assistant professor of medicine in the department of pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine at Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
Blue light meddles with the normal production of melatonin, disturbing our bodies’ natural sleep-wake cycle.
And research shows that this can be a problem:
- One small study found that compared to reading a print book, using an e-reader prolongs the time it takes to fall asleep, cuts the amount of REM sleep, and diminishes alertness the following morning.
- Another study found that blue light exposure shortens sleep time, disturbs sleep, and leads to more grogginess the next day.
- Research has also found that blue light stimulates the production of cortisol, a stress hormone that increases alertness and shuts off sleep.
Over time, these effects can lead to some formidable fatigue as well as a chronic lack of quality sleep.
What the Research Says About Blue-Light Blocking Glasses
Experts all seem to agree on the easiest way to make sure blue light doesn’t sabotage your sleep: We need to avoid our electronics during the evenings.
“It’s best to avoid blue light-emitting devices at least an hour or two before bedtime,” says Sharma. So, we’ve all started setting an alarm for powering down our devices and hold ourselves to it. Why not try it tonight?
Umm, who are we kidding? Research has found that 90% of us use some type of electronics at least a few nights per week within an hour of bedtime.
So, what’s a person who loves their smartphone, e-reader, Netflix, and online games to do?
While there is not yet a large body of research out there on blue-light-blocking glasses, there are several small studies that have suggested their effectiveness:
- One study on 14 subjects found that blue light glasses canceled out the melatonin-suppressing effect of blue light.
- Another study, this one on 20 adults, found that wearing blue-blocking glasses three hours before bed significantly improved sleep quality and mood compared to a control group.
- A study on people with insomnia who wore blue-light-blocking glasses for two hours before bed found that compared to clear placebo lenses, the blue-light-blocking glasses improved sleep time, sleep quality, and soundness of sleep.
Sharma cautions that there are no large, long-term studies looking at blue-light-blocking glasses, and because the specs aren’t medical devices, they haven't been FDA approved.
“I say to my patients, try them,” she says. “Given what we know about blue light, it might be worth a try to see whether or not it helps.”
- Sharma suggests using your smartphone’s “Night Shift” or “night mode” feature as well as decreasing the brightness of any screen you’re using.
- Get plenty of activity and some sunlight during the day to help you stay alert and regulate your biological rhythm with natural light.
- Dim or turn out all the lights in your house a few hours before bed to get your body geared for a good night’s sleep.
- Create a bedtime ritual that includes an old-fashioned printed book under soft lamplight. If you must use an e-reader, choose one with e-ink, which uses less blue light.
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