Dear Bedtime Browsers,
At this point in the digital age, you probably know that scrolling through your phone, tablet or laptop in the evening is not only bad for your eyes, but even worse for your circadian rhythm, also known as your biological clock. The light from our screens is harmful because it holds a higher concentration of blue light versus natural light, which has the highest energy of the spectrum. Similarly, these shorter wavelengths are more susceptible to flickering; causing a glare that can reduce visual contrast and affect sharpness and clarity. Humans have been found to display high sensitivity to blue light, which is unfortunate for us because the average person spends 6-8 hours a day staring at a flickering blue light-emitting screen. (Blue Light Exposed) Although the media revolved around blue light is usually targeted at our devices, blue light is a natural wavelength that is seen during the day from the sun, which is why our biological clocks wake us up when the sun rises. As you spend hours viewing light emitting screens in your dark bedroom, the blue light wavelengths quickly become your silent sleep killer, offsetting your circadian rhythm. This offset causes your body to automatically begin pushing back your sleep schedule and causing the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin, to release later than it should. (Harvard Health) Even though this blue light emitting screen phenomenon is a fairly new concept, it is no force to reckon with.
The harm of blue light-emitting devices has been researched and tested countless times, including a study done at Harvard University with neuroscientists George Brainard and Anne-Marie Chang, who have spent most of their professional life focused on this topic. In 2014, these two colleagues examined the effects of reading on light-emitting devices compared to a printed book. The participants who read on the light-emitting devices took longer to fall asleep and had less REM sleep due to the blaring blue light. Upon awaking from an eight-hour sleep, those participants were actually sleepier and took longer to wake up than the participants who read a printed book. These results proved that light-emitting devices suppress melatonin, causing a circadian delay and ultimately ruining your sleep cycle through time. (Scientific American) Luckily, there are two solutions to ending this silent sleep killer; blue light blocking glasses and apps, or simply ending your screen time an hour or two before bed. Now, don’t be fooled by these blue light blocking gadgets, for this new market is playing you and your wallet because they know that we will continue to feed our addiction, even if blue light gets in our way.
Understanding that our eye’s natural filters do not provide sufficient protection against blue light rays from our devices, companies have begun taking their unnecessary blue light cancellation goggles and screen dimming apps to the media in hopes that we would buy into it, and we did! Recently, ReasearchGate took this issue to Jefferey Leung, an Optometry professor at the University of Hong Kong, who performed a study on the effectiveness of blue light blocking goggles. He found that although the participants were definitely less exposed to blue light while wearing the goggles, 98% of them did not notice any change to their vision and sleep. Similarly, the goggles did not significantly affect the tested visual perception and sleep quality of the wearers, simply because they were still viewing their screens before sleep. (ResearchGate) An example of these goggles are the “Swannies”, which were introduced in November of 2016 and claimed to deliver more than 44,000 hours of better sleep in their first year of business. These orange-tinted, cheap plastic glasses go for a whopping $70 on their online store. Not only are they advertising on their own, but Swannies has been hosted on several social media platforms including Elite Daily, Live with Kelly, and The Huffington Post, all being used as a way to sell yet another lie. (Swanwick Sleep) Now, as Jeffrey Leung and many other researchers have taught us, these goggles and glasses have basically zero affect on your sleep cycle. Rather than spending a paycheck on these inoperative glasses or even a $5 app the tint your screen orange, the best answer, and the least popular, is to simply avoid screen time before going to sleep! And as for the orange tinted glasses, they can remain a fashion trend #fail.
Author: Abigail Judith Stone (University of Vermont) – senior at the University of Vermont majoring in Studio Art and minoring in Consumer and Advertising, and American Sign Language.
Advisor: Rob Williams, Ph.D. (University of Vermont); Professor of Media/Communications.
“Glasses That Filter out Blue Light Can Help Prevent Eye Damage.” ResearchGate. N.p., 13 Mar. 2017. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.
Publications, Harvard Health. “Blue Light Has a Dark Side.” Harvard Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.
Schmerler, Jessica. “Q&A: Why Is Blue Light before Bedtime Bad for Sleep?” Scientific American. N.p., 14 Aug. 2015. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.
“Shine the Light on Blue Light.” Blue Light Exposed. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.
Sleep, Swanwick. “Quality Sleep Products.” Swanwick Sleep. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.