As a self-help junkie, I’ve always been on the lookout for ways to optimize my sleep. One popular trend that caught my attention was the idea of reducing blue light from screens before bedtime. Entire businesses, like those selling blue light blocking glasses, have capitalized on this concept. And I’ve been using the Night Mode softwares on my computer and phone for several years (f.lux is the one for PCs, Night Mode is the one for iPhones). However, recent videos made me question the effectiveness of this approach. It turns out that the whole idea of reducing blue light for better sleep might be a myth.
For years, we’ve been told that the blue light emitted by digital screens interferes with our sleep patterns. The theory is that our body’s circadian rhythm, or natural body clock, responds to environmental cues. When exposed to bright light during the day, our bodies recognize it as daylight and stay awake. As it gets darker, our body produces melatonin, a hormone that makes us sleepy. The belief was that blue light from screens mimicked sunlight, inhibiting melatonin production and disrupting sleep.
Questioning the Science: Research conducted about a decade ago seemed to support the link between blue light and disrupted sleep. A study comparing reading on an iPad to reading a physical book found that the iPad readers had poorer sleep quality and more difficulty falling asleep. This study attributed these effects to the blue light emitted by the iPad screen, suggesting that screens without blue light emissions wouldn’t disrupt sleep. This finding seemed logical and led to the development of night modes in devices.
New Perspectives on Blue Light and Sleep: In late 2019, researchers at the University of Manchester challenged the notion that blue light is the main culprit in disrupted sleep. Their study, conducted on mice, surprisingly found that warm light was more disruptive to sleep patterns than cool light. They theorized that warm light visually resembled daylight more closely, confusing the mice into thinking it was still daytime. These findings raised doubts about the dangers of blue light in humans, as mice studies don’t always translate directly.
Brightness and Color Perception Matter: The researchers also suggested that overall brightness and color perception might be more important than specific wavelengths. They proposed using warm, bright lights during the day, similar to daylight, and cool, dim lights during the night, resembling twilight. This approach would align with our body’s natural response to light cues. Considering this perspective, the emphasis shifts from reducing blue light to avoiding excessively bright screens before bed.
Individual Variations and Personal Experiences: While more research is needed to draw definitive conclusions, individual responses to screen use vary. Some people report significant sleep disturbances from screen exposure, while others find no noticeable effects. Night mode has been praised by some individuals as helpful for sleep. Consequently, if night mode works for you, there’s no harm in using it.
A Practical Approach: Based on the current understanding, my personal takeaway is to be less concerned about night mode and more mindful of screen brightness before bedtime. Bright screens can trick our bodies into perceiving it as daylight, disrupting sleep. By reducing screen brightness and avoiding excessively bright screens, we can align our body’s cues for sleep. This way, we can still use our tech late at night without compromising our sleep quality.
While reducing blue light for better sleep has gained popularity, recent research challenges its effectiveness. The notion that blue light is the primary culprit in sleep disruption might be overstated. Brightness and overall color perception appear to play a significant role. Individual responses to screens differ, and more research is needed to understand this relationship. People’s responses to blue light may vary, and some individuals may subjectively feel better with blue light blocking software, whether it’s due to a placebo effect or actual benefits. If you’re curious, it’s worth trying out these software and observing how they affect your sleep. Personally, I’ve decided to stop using the night mode software on my laptop and phone to see if it makes a difference for me. However, it’s likely that reducing the overall brightness and exposure to intense light sources, such as TVs, phones, and bright lamps, in the evenings plays a more significant role in promoting better sleep. Instead of solely relying on changing the hues to amber, consider turning off or minimizing the number and brightness of these light sources after sunset. Remember, finding what works best for your sleep is a personal journey, and experimentation is key.