There is no denying that the last year has accelerated the world´s digital dependency, particularly for our children, exposing them and us to more artificial blue light than ever before. Survey’s carried out during the lockdowns in 2020 by Statista suggest that smartphone use went up by 70% globally, while laptop usage saw a 40% rise in some countries.
What is Blue Light and Why the Concern?
Blue light is actually everywhere. Our main natural source comes from the sun. In its natural form, your body uses blue light from the sun to regulate your natural sleep and wake cycles. This is known as your circadian rhythm which is governed and entrained by natural light and dark cycles.
Blue light from the sun during the day tells our body clock that its daytime and to keep cortisol levels high which is great for boosting alertness, heighten reaction times, elevate moods and increase the feeling of wellbeing.
When this natural form of blue light disappears after the sun has set, it sends another message to our body to tell it that it is now night time and to stop producing cortisol and to start producing melatonin, in effect telling your body to go to sleep.
In our modern world, we no longer live under ancestral light and dark cycles which is how our circadian rhythms evolved. We work indoors during the day under too much blue light and then after work, we go home where we expose ourselves to more artificial blue light in the forms of smart phones, laptops, fridges, TVs and LED house lights. Our sophisticated brains are being tricked into thinking its daytime constantly, and to not shut down cortisol levels which in turn supressing melatonin production.
Why is Melatonin Important?
Melatonin is an anti-oxidant, it also boosts our immune system, has anti-inflammatory properties, and supports our bodies natural healing processes as well as regulating sleep.
Having low levels of melatonin can not only interfere with our sleep cycle, but can also have a detrimental impact on our whole body – so much so that it can potentially contribute to chronic disease.
Melatonin regulates excess oestrogen levels and insulin like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) which plays an important role in childhood growth, as well as building organs, tissues and muscle mass, and growth and mineralisation of bones. Excess oestrogen and IGF-1 can contribute to some types of cancer
the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified night shift work with circadian rhythm disruption as a carcinogen
as well as being linked to breast cancer, low melatonin is also linked to endometrial cancer (because of the way it impacts oestrogen)
studies link melatonin suppression in the evening to various health problems, including metabolic syndrome, obesity and depression.
Artificial blue light has also been shown to damage our eyes and lead to digital eyestrain and macular degeneration. Children are also far more vulnerable to blue light than adults and it can impact their development and learning if not addressed.
Disorders such as ADHD are on the rise, which in some studies has been linked to excessive blue light exposure. Blue light’s high energy characteristics and volatile nature means that it can cause damage at a cellular level and must be reduced in order to minimise potential risks to eye health.
What Can We Do?
1. Limit Screen Time
Set a technology curfew. Establish a nightly schedule that involves ceasing the use of electronics at least one hour before bedtime. You can use an alarm to help your child (and you!) remember to turn off screens at a certain time. It might help to plan other calming activities before bed, such as reading or puzzles. We as parents should also lead by an example and limit the use of screens prior to bedtime. Keep phones, iPads etc out of the bedroom, its too tempting to use them in the middle of the night.
2. Wear Blue Light Glasses
I highly recommend the brand BLUblox who specialise in evidence based advanced light filtering eyewear. Their clear lens computer glasses filter down harmful blue light protecting your eyes from the dangers of blue light. These glasses can be worn during the day when using technology. Once the sun has set then switch to the red lens blue bloc blocking glasses which tells your brain that its night time and sleep time.
Not all blue light glasses are created equal which means you have to be careful when choosing which company you buy from. Many from Amazon, eBay or cheaper brands will not filter the correct frequencies of blue light and may even damage your kids’ eyes.
3. Adjust Screen Brightness
A simple adjustment like shifting the brightness down during the evening can help minimise light pollution in your home. Change the colour temperature of the display – how warm or cool it looks. (Using software called flux) I recommend putting your devices such as mobiles, iPads and computers onto night mode.
4. Change your Lightbulbs
Many energy saving light bulbs contain LEDs, which tend to produce extremely high frequencies of blue light. By switching your light bulbs to a warmer hue or halogen, you can reduce your exposure. Red light exposure does not suppress melatonin production so it could help to use red light bulbs for evening reading lamps and nightlights. Yellow light and orange light are also on the long wavelength end of the light spectrum and could be good options.
5. Get Outside
The first thing you can do to reset your circadian rhythm is to get outside during the day. Exposing yourself to sunlight will send a signal to your body and help regulate your circadian systems. Expose yourself to lots of natural bright light during the day, which will boost your ability to sleep at night, as well as your mood and alertness during daylight. Sunrises and morning sun exposure has been shown to improve sleep later in the day. Starting your day with your eyes seeing the sunrise is exactly what our ancestors would have seen. It’s this light that entrains our circadian rhythms and keep our hormones in balance.
Overall, light exposure plays a massive role to our health and wellness. It’s not just about diet and exercise, light is another part of the holistic puzzle of your wellbeing.
If you would like to learn more about blue light and how it effects our health then I recommend listening to this podcast hosted by Melissa Ambrosini with Andy Mant, the founder and CEO of BLUBlox.