Seeing as 60 million Americans suffer from chronic insomnia, it’s an important question to consider — especially since time spent in front of a screen might be partially to blame.
On average, Americans spend nearly half of their day looking at a screen. That’s about 10 hours every day spent staring at a computer or smartphone that emits “blue light” — a type of light that signals your brain to stay awake and alert.
In small doses, this type of light isn’t necessarily harmful — after all, sunlight is a “white light” that includes some of these same blue light rays. But simply put, our eyes and bodies are not designed to handle the amount of blue light exposure we get in the standard 9-to-5 desk job.
This is especially true when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. Blue light exposure can lead to issues with insomnia and restlessness at night, especially if that exposure continues well into the evening hours. If you watch TV, browse Facebook on your phone or read on your iPad before bed, you might just be reducing the quality and quantity of your sleep (and you might not even know it).
There are plenty of tips and tricks to help you get to sleep at night, but special glasses designed to block blue light could be a new tool for chronic insomniacs. Is it a fad, or does it really work? Let’s take a look at the science behind these glasses and how it can help you hit the hay.
What is blue light, and why does it matter for sleep?
All light is on a spectrum, and each type of light has its own energy and wavelength. Red and orange light has lower energy with longer wavelengths, while blue light has shorter wavelengths with more energy.
Our brains rely in part on our eyes to determine when it’s appropriate to produce more melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel sleepy. When it’s light outside, your brain suppresses the production of melatonin so you can stay alert. As the sun sets, however, the reduction in natural light signals to your brain that it’s getting close to bedtime — and your brain responds by producing more melatonin.
Blue light (found in natural sunlight as well as light from screens) is partially responsible for this suppression of melatonin. So, if you are watching TV or on a computer late at night, you are unknowingly intervening in your brain’s natural sleep and wake process. The concept is simple: reduce your eyes’ exposure to blue light, and your brain can more easily produce melatonin that helps you drift off.
Aren’t blue light blocking glasses for strained eyes, and not sleep?
Yes, one of the main purposes of blue light blocking glasses (sometimes referred to as “computer glasses”) is to reduce strain on your eyes. That’s because extended exposure to blue light can contribute to lots of vision issues — including macular degeneration, digital eye strain and retina damage.
But one of the lesser-known benefits of blue light blocking glasses is its impact on your sleep quality and quantity. While your eyes aren’t the only thing responsible for signaling your brain to produce melatonin, they’re a very important part of the equation.
Adjusting how and when you are exposed to blue light can help those prone to insomnia get to sleep faster, and sleep longer through the night. This is particularly true when you combine blue light blocking glasses with other techniques like early-morning exercise, drinking tart cherry juice and dimming your lights about an hour before bed.
If I want to use blue light blocking glasses to help me sleep, what should I do?
It’s not necessary to wear these special types of lenses all day to get the sleep benefits of blue light reduction. Instead, most sleep experts will recommend swapping your normal specs for blue light blocking glasses about 3 hours before bedtime.
If they aren’t quite doing the trick, you might need to add a few other tricks to help your brain send you off to sleep. If you’re struggling to fall and stay asleep most nights, try adding these tips and tricks to your nightly routine:
1. Switch to blue light blocking glasses 3 hours before bedtime.
2. Get exercise early in the morning.
3. Drink tart cherry juice (rich in melatonin) about an hour before bed.
4. Listen to calming music designed to help slow your heart rate and reduce anxiety.
5. Wear an eye mask to block out light emitted from electronics in your home.
And if even after following these tips you still struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep, your mattress might be the issue. If you notice excessive sinking toward the middle of your bed or wake up with aches and pains, these are probably signs that you should replace your mattress.
For chronic insomniacs, highly-contouring beds like those with memory foam comfort layers can help you get comfortable and drift off. If night sweats are what’s keeping you awake, try looking for a specialized cooling mattress that helps disperse body heat so you can sleep cool throughout the night.
Getting a great night’s sleep is all about finding the right balance of a great bed, a great wind-down routine and a healthy lifestyle. It might feel like hard work, but you’ll be grateful once you feel the effects of eight hours of restful, rejuvenating sleep!