In addition to a healthy diet and exercise, sleep is absolutely essential to health. Unfortunately, the majority of Americans are falling short of the recommended 8 hours of sleep per night. This is not just a matter of decreased productivity throughout the day; there is substantial evidence that suggests a link between sleep deprivation and an increased risk for diabetes, obesity, and several other chronic diseases.
While some individuals choose to sleep less so that they can accomplish more throughout the day, a growing number simply struggle to get a good night’s sleep. It seems somewhat paradoxical that despite the busy and tiring lives we all lead, we are sleeping worse. So what gives? Well, a recent study conducted by the Harvard School of Medicine revealed that the light we are exposed to from laptops, TVs, electronics and energy-efficient light bulbs may be interfering with sleep and thus harming our health.
It is certainly disturbing to think that watching the television or working on our laptop at night may be causing us harm as these are such common activities. Yet, we must remember that for most of human evolution, when the sun set, it was time for sleep. Today that is no longer the case. And while more research is needed in the area, it seems that exposure to light at night could be impacting the amount of melatonin that the body produces. Melatonin is a hormone that influences circadian rhythms; therefore, a decrease in its production would certainly impact one’s ability to drift off to sleep at night.
Not ready to give up your electronics in the evening? According the Harvard study, some artificial light is more detrimental than others; therefore, it may be enough to simply eliminate the worst offenders. It seems that blue wavelengths have the most significant impact on decreasing the body’s secretion of melatonin. As these wavelengths are known to boost attention, increase reaction times, and improve mood during waking hours, it makes sense that they would be counterproductive to falling asleep at night.
Though choosing white fluorescent light bulbs and LEDs is a great way to reduce energy usage, they also produce the most blue light. This doesn’t mean you should switch back to less energy efficient bulbs, but it may be a good idea to avoid these lights as much as possible after sunset. In addition, the Harvard researchers offered the following recommendations for decreasing one’s exposure to blue wavelengths at night:
1. Use dim red lights for nightlights. Red light has the least power to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin.
2. Avoid looking at brightly lit screens beginning two to three hours before bed.
3. If you work a night shift or use a lot of electronic devices at night, consider wearing blue-blocking glasses.
4. Expose yourself to lots of bright light during the day, which will boost your ability to sleep at night, as well as your mood and
alertness during the day.
Assistance provided by Allison van Camp