I wouldn’t say blue light is the sole cause of the Zombie Apocalypse but the human need to be constantly stimulated and entertained by electronic devices are definitely contributing to mindless people. While on the run, technology has made it easy for us to never stop learning, play video games, catch up on celebrity gossip and so on, but at what cost does this convenience have to our health? Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if we were able to unplug at night without feeling like we are going to miss some Earth shattering event.
Over the last few months I have had to commute through the city of Toronto for work and have been privy to more “people watching” opportunities. I used to spend a good amount of my time “people watching” in city parks, crowded malls and lounging in Starbucks, when I was pursuing a career in acting, or shall I say tending bar. It was a great way to learn of all the various unique ticks and tendencies people have. However, those days are just about gone, for one, I am no longer striving to be more than those resume boosting roles I scored such as “the gorgeous cyclist” from Queer As Folk, Tom Wellings’ body double in Smallville and a few lines that never made the final cut of the mega box office hit John Tucker Must Die, second and more so because there are a lot of people who act like, well, ZOMBIES. Everyone seems to be shuffling along blindly, glued to their smartphone or tablet caring less and less each day that passes about actual human interaction, not holding the door for others, not saying “thank you” when someone holds it for them, rushing on to public transit vehicles before passengers can get off, not offering a seat to pregnant women or the elderly, strolling out into traffic, not using turn signals and drowning in coffee just to get through the day without ripping someones head off.
In the early 2000’s, after many failed attempts and large expensive successes, the first blue LED’s were created by Japanese scientist, Shuji Nakamura. Blue light has a very short wavelength, which the human eye is capable of picking up, however even though the blue LED’s were all the rage for their coolness and futuristic look, they actually cause more strain on the eye when trying to focus, as our eyes function better with red and green light.
Blue light affects the photopigment melanopsin, located on the receptors within our eyes, used for sensing time of day, or more specifically, day or night. During the day, blue light wavelengths actually provide feelings of well being, increased reaction times and stimulate mood. Constant exposure to any type of light at night, not just blue light, can trick the brain into releasing less melatonin, which is our sleep hormone, therefore leaving us more awake and stimulated than we should be before bed.(1,2,3) The lens in our eye along with the pigment in the back of the eye provide some protection against blue light but only for short periods of time and only in daylight. Basically, blue light at night interrupts our circadian rhythm, and without proper sleep quantity, seven to nine hours, and quality coming from going to bed no later than 10-10:30pm to take advantage of the body’s natural release of melatonin. The first yawn that occurs each night is usually a good sign that the body has released melatonin and it is time to shut down and prepare for sleep.
Blue light is found in all of our smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers, TV’s, and in LED lights that reside in game consoles, PVR/DVR’s and even coffee makers and toasters that resemble the back end of the Millennium Falcon. Fluorescent light bulbs also contain blue light but some of the more aware companies coat them with a film that restricts our exposure to blue light. Red light has the least amount of effect on both melatonin and circadian rhythm, leading me to believe maybe Amsterdam has to rethink their business model? Or not.
All the night time illumination that is surrounds us now a days, tablets, TV’s, video games and all the aforementioned electronics, but also night shift workers exposed to fluorescent lights, compared to that of our ancestors who retired for the day and went to sleep at night, has ruined our sleep wake cycles that makes up our circadian rhythm. Blue light at night disrupts our sleep, weakens our immune system and greatly contributes to cancer (breast and prostate)(4), diabetes, heart disease, obesity and depression.
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AVOIDING THE APOCALYPSE
1. Use the f.lux app that adjusts light depending on the time of day for computers, iphones and tablets.
2. Purchase Blu Tech lenses or other blue blocking glasses as these have been shown to be beneficial for night shift workers and those who use electronics at night(5,6)
3. Keep electronic devices out of the bedroom but if an alarm clock is needed, be sure to blackout the face of it as even a little light can stimulate our brain.
4. Black out blinds should be used if windows are present, as the darker the bedroom is, the more melatonin the brain secretes.
5. The hour before bed, dim all lights, turn off electronics and relax. Try reading a light book, prepare food for the next day, meditate, draw a hot bath, spend time with your loved ones and/or pets.
6. Avoid electronics one to two hours before bed(7)
7. Wake up to bright light, preferably sunshine and immediately spend a few minutes basking in it. It is the daylight that resets our twenty-four and a quarter hour circadian rhythms (give or take a little depending on individuals and their lifestyles).
Blue light is not all bad, so don’t throw away your tablets just yet and move to a secluded log cabin on the mountain side where you awake to birds singing and the sound of a running stream, blue skies and sunshine. Okay, and maybe you’ll find the occasional raccoon rummaging through your kitchen, big deal. Just understand that there are neurological and hormonal consequences to using devices at night which combined with not taking the necessary steps to wind down in preparation for a good nights sleep are creating sleep deprived, overweight, undernourished, disease ridden, easily irritated, emotionless zombies.
1. Chellappa SL, Steiner R, Oelhafen P, Lang D, Gotz T, Krebs J, Cajochen C. Acute exposure to evening blue-enriched light impacts on human sleep. Journal of Sleep Research. 2013; Epub ahead of print
2. Munch M, Kobialka S, Steiner R, Oelhafen P, Wirz-Justice A, Cajochen C. Wavelength-dependent effects of evening light exposure on sleep architecture and sleep EEG power density in men. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2006 May; 290(5):R1421-8. Equib 2006 Jan 26.
3. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). Light from self-luminous tablet computers can affect evening melatonin, delaying sleep. ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 August 2012.
4. Savvidis C, Koutsilieris M. Circadian rhythm disruption in cancer biology. Molecular Medicine. 2012; 18(1): 1249-1260
5. Burkhart K, Phelps JR. Amber lenses to block blue light and improve sleep: a randomized trial. Chronobiol Int, 2009 Dec;26(8):1602-12. doi: 10.3109/07420520903523719
6. Sasseville A, Benhaberou-Brun D, Fontaine C, Charon MC, Hebert M. Wearing blue-blockers in the morning could improve sleep of workers on a permanent night schedule: a pilot study. Chronobiol Int. 2009 Jul;26(5):913-25. doi: 10.1080/07420520903044298
7. Gooley J. J, Chamberlain K, Smith A. Kurt, Khalsa S. SB, Rajaratnam S, Van Reen E, Zeitzer M. J, Czeisler A. C, Lockley W. S. Exposure to room light before bedtime suppresses melatonin onset and shortens melatonin duration in humans. Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. Online
Nathane Jackson is a veteran health and wellness authority, specializing in holistic living. He has a decade worth of knowledge as a personal trainer, strength & conditioning coach and holistic nutritionist and is dedicated to improving all aspects of health starting at the cellular level by combining nutrition, functional exercise, and restorative practices to help his clients strengthen their mind, body and spirit.