For many people across the country, it can be next to impossible to simply turn off their phones at night and get the rest they need. It's estimated that the average Briton spends up to 10 hours per day staring at screens, with 3 of those hours looking at a phone screen. Whether browsing through your Facebook feed, checking your email one last time before getting to sleep, or aimlessly binging YouTube videos, smartphones offer an endless array of distractions that can prevent us from getting to sleep at a decent hour.
Recent studies have shown, however, that there might be another way in which our smartphones are keeping us from getting a restful night of sleep. In this short article, we take an in-depth look at how the blue light emitted by most smartphones can negatively disrupt our sleeping patterns and offer a few ideas for how we can avoid this common but potentially dangerous health issue.
The Problems with Blue Light
Smartphones are designed so that we can see what's on the screen even when outside during a sunny afternoon. The bright blue light that they emit has different wavelengths than the natural light of the sun allowing our eyes to be able to see what is on our screens. However, blue light can also cause some health related problems.
In terms of general eyesight, long-term exposure to strong blue light (such as that emanating from your smartphone), can increase the probability of macular degeneration. Blue light can penetrate into the inner reaches of the retina at the back of the eye, which can damage the light-sensitive cells that are found there. Furthermore, high energy blue light scatters much more easily than lights of other wavelengths and this is what leads to the eye strain that is so common with computer users.
Moreover, the blue light radiating from our smartphones at night can also confuse our brain. Because this light mimics the natural light of the sun, long periods of exposure to our smartphones at night can disrupt our circadian rhythm - our natural body clock. Long-term disruption of our internal body clocks has been linked to various other health conditions including obesity, increased risk of heart attacks and diabetes.
Finally, and perhaps more seriously, exposure to the blue light of our smartphones during night-time hours can also cause our brains to stop producing melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland of the brain that, among other functions, lets your body know when it is time to go to sleep. Without this hormone, it can be increasingly difficult for our bodies to know when they need to rest.
What Can We Do?
Concerns over exposure to the blue light from our cell phones are real and need to be taken seriously. However, that doesn't mean that we have to simply give up our smartphones.
For people who are disciplined, simply turning off and storing away their smartphone 2 to 3 hours before bedtime should be more than enough to limit the negative effects of blue light. If you go to bed at 10 pm, make it a habit to turn off your phone at around 7 pm, and spend more time with your family or reading a good book.
If you feel that you simply cannot do without your smartphone during the evening or night-time, consider installing a blue light filtering app. This will help to avoid difficulties falling asleep by adapting the screen on your phone to the specific time of day. The filter automatically changes based on the sun cycle and your local sunset and sunrise times.
While all of us probably could spend a bit more time away from the screens that dominate our lives, there are fortunately ways that we can still enjoy the benefits of technology (even during the night hours) without compromising our sleep and our health.