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Lights Out: Blue Light and Sleep

Alongside many other parents, I am currently embarking on the journey of distant learning with my 6 year old daughter. Although it has gone surprisingly better than I ever could have imagined, there are still components to this type of learning that have brought about some concerns. One concern that has caught a lot of attention recently has been the amount of increased screen time that accompanies distant learning and the physical implications of that on children. Many parents seem to be talking about the amount of blue light that children are being exposed to during the day and the repercussions that come with  it. 

What is Blue Light?

Light is made up of many different colors, and each color of light in the visible spectrum has different amounts of energy and wavelengths. When you look at the colors of the rainbow in order, they range from longer wavelengths with lower energy on the red end of the spectrum to shorter wavelengths of higher energy on the blue end of the spectrum.  Blue wavelengths can be beneficial during daylight hours because they boost attention, reaction times, and mood, however because of its higher energy, blue light seems to be very disruptive at night and can negatively impact sleep. 

How Does Blue Light Impact Sleep?

Since blue light consists of shorter wavelengths, it then produces higher amounts of energy which has shown to have a negative effect on sleep.  Research has found that too much blue light can cause eye strain, delay the release of melatonin (sleepy hormone), increase alertness, and reset the body’s circadian rhythm to a later schedule. https://www.sleepfoundation.org

When our bodies wind down for the night and prepare for sleep our melatonin levels start to increase. When we introduce blue light to our bodies at night, it slows down our ability to produce melatonin making it harder to get to sleep.

What Can You do to Ensure that Blue Light is Not Effecting Your Family’s Sleep?

  • Set clear boundaries with your child’s use of electronics. Limit screen time and exposure to any bright screens at least one hour before bedtime.
  • Night Light: When picking out a night light for your child, make sure to use bulbs that contain a red or orange hue versus fluorescent or LED lights that have a white or blue hue.
  • Consider investing in blue light blocking glasses: If you or your child are on an electronic device for a good chunk of time during the day or night, it might be beneficial to invest in some blue light blocking glasses. These glasses, which can be either prescription or non-prescription, have special lenses that lessen the amount of blue light being absorbed by the eyes which can help with eye strain and sleep disturbances caused by blue light. For kids, we like to recommend glasses from gogglesnmore. They have a variety of options to choose from and their glasses come with an adjustable strap and can be prescription or non-prescription. This month you can also get a 20% discount on any range of kids blue light glasses using the code: SLEEPWELL. They are also having a back-to-school promotion; buy one pair of kids glasses with prescription lenses and get a second pair for half price! The coupon code for this deal is: Back2School and lasts through September 18th. 
  • Get Outside: The sun is another source of blue light and can actually be beneficial to our bodies. Blue light during daylight hours helps regulate circadian rhythms and provides small increases in alertness and cognitive function. So make sure that you give your children outside breaks throughout the day to ensure they are getting natural sunlight to improve their alertness and help them sleep at night.
  • Charge your devices in a separate room from your bedroom. If you have a TV in your room and charge your devices without powering them down at night, you are surrounding yourself with blue light while you sleep. Make sure to find a separate space for your electronics or power them down first before plugging them in to charge. 
  • Electronic Curfew: It is easy to give our children electronic curfews, but it is a little more difficult to set one for ourselves. At the end of the day, I want to turn my brain off and turn my TV. To keep myself accountable I try to power down electronics at a specific time each evening. Commit to being off your TV, computer, or phone at an exact time each night.
  • Get an app with a digital filter: There are a number of apps that alter the screen’s shade based on the time of day. This minimizes blue light exposure at night and allows melatonin levels continue to rise.

There is no doubt that blue light and it's effect on health is a topic that will continue to be talked about and researched for many years to come, but hopefully taking what we currently know and applying some of these tips will help navigate your family towards better sleep in our digital world.

About the author

Amanda Medley

Why didn’t we try this sooner?! As we speak he is sound asleep in his crib – and has been since 7:15 pm.

Karianne Wanggaard

Sleep Well Sleep Specialists

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