Healthversed’s Guide to Blue Light

6 minute read

By Jordana Weiss

These days, being content with your health and wellness isn’t enough. Our culture continually strives to protect ourselves from harmful elements. A recent focus is blue light. Start a search to learn everything you need to know about blue light.

Blue light is simply a kind of light produced by many electronic devices. The more we learn about blue light, the more we are made aware of how it affects our bodies and what we can do to stop these negative effects.

What is light?

To understand what blue light is, you first need to have a general picture of what light is. It’s a hard thing to understand, because you see it every day, but the last time you were taught about it was probably back in grade school. Don’t be ashamed if your knowledge is lacking. We’re here to simplify it and make it easy to understand.

Light, on a basic level, is the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to the naked eye. Most of our light comes from the sun, which produces a wide variety of frequencies of light ranging from infrared (which has longer waves and produces less energy) to ultraviolet (which has much shorter waves and produces more energy).

But what is blue light?

Blue light is a type of light that has much shorter wavelengths than the regular, daytime light we see coming from the sun. The shorter wavelengths mean that it produces more energy. It’s closest to ultraviolet (UV) light, which is the type of light that causes sunburns in humans when we’re exposed to intense sunlight.

Humans are now aware of the dangers of extended exposure to UV light – it burns your skin, and can even lead to sunburned eyes (which you might know as snow blindness). UV light has benefits, such as helping the body create vitamin D, but your exposure needs to be balanced so the negatives don’t outweigh the positives.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of blue light?

Like UV rays, blue light rays can be both beneficial and harmful to our bodies. Light is what regulates our circadian rhythms, which is the internal clock that tells us when it’s time to sleep, and when it’s time to wake up. If you’ve been traveling, you’ve probably experienced a disruption of your circadian rhythm when you come back home jetlagged. You won’t feel as sleepy as you usually do around your normal bedtime.

Too much exposure to blue light disrupts your circadian rhythm. You may feel this if you’ve been looking at your phone or your laptop in bed before you sleep. After you’re done surfing the net, you probably don’t feel as tired as you did before.

What can blue light do to your eyes?

While your eyes have become better at blocking more harmful UV rays, your eyes are not great at blocking out blue light. Usually, your corneas and lenses are adept at making sure that your sensitive retinas are protected from these kinds of harmful rays, but because we are one of the first generations to use screens this extensively, our eyes have not yet adapted to the intensity of all this blue light.

Blue light exposure has been known to damage retinas through a process called macular degeneration, which if left untreated can eventually lead to vision loss.

Blue light strains our eyes

Blue light comes in shorter waves than most visible light we can see, so it tends to scatter much quicker than other types of light, and creates what researchers refer to as visual “noise.” This “noise” does to our eyes what excessive sound noise does to our ears – it makes it hard to focus, and eventually strains our eyes as we try to narrow our gaze to block out the excess light.

Children are the most vulnerable to blue light strain because it builds up over time. It can eventually harm a young child’s developing vision.

How to reduce eye strain

There are certain exercises and technologies that have been developed over the last few years to counteract the harm of blue light strain. There are types of glasses that have been built with yellow-tinted lenses, which block out many blue light rays. Certain technology companies have recently started offering modes which can be activated after a certain time, which change the blue light of your screen to a healthier orange or yellow light.

At first, you may notice a difference, especially if you’re watching a movie or TV show, but eventually, it will appear normal to you. If you’ve undergone cataract surgery, reducing eye strain from blue light is especially important as the intraocular lenses that are used to replace your natural lenses may not provide as much blue light protection as before.

The non-physical effects of blue light exposure

In addition to contributing to macular degeneration, a recent study also found that prolonged exposure to blue light led to a decrease in sleep quality in adults. Blue light makes you more alert, which makes it much more difficult for you to fall asleep immediately after using your devices.

In 2012, the American Medical Association recommended that blue light in all bedrooms be replaced with a dimmer red light. Devices like yellow-tinted glasses, and programs like f.lux, which replaces the blue tints on your screens with ones towards the warmer end of the light spectrum, can all help you sleep easier.

Can blue light be beneficial to our health?

Although blue light in large quantities at the wrong time of day can be damaging to your eyes and your sleep cycle, there is a lot of research which has found that blue light can be beneficial overall to your health. This high-energy blue light can help boost your alertness, improve your mood, and even heighten your cognitive function.

Blue light is a key part of the therapy for people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a mood disorder which tends to plague people during the darkest times of the year. By exposing people to intense blue light during light therapy, doctors can help patients regulate their mood and their circadian rhythms. A basic rule of thumb is that blue light exposure should follow the sun –  you shouldn’t be exposing yourself to large quantities of it if the sun is long gone from the sky.

How can we detox from blue light exposure?

One popular theory states that one way to adjust your circadian rhythm back to normal is to go camping! Camping allows you to unplug from reality, in more ways than one. You get to explore nature, while also breathing in more oxygen and giving your eyes a rest from the continual exposure to blue light.

Just make sure to leave your devices at home! Researchers from a university in Colorado found that campers who spent as little as 48 hours away from the hustle and bustle of a city fell asleep earlier, and were much less sleepy when it came time to wake up for work on Monday morning.

If you’re used to sleeping after using your devices, is it already too late?

It’s never too late to detox from blue light exposure! One easy way to cut down on the impact of blue light in your life is to put your devices away at least one hour before you intend on going to bed. Read a paperback book, or the newspaper, or simply hang out and chat with your loved ones. This digital detox before bed will help you feel more well-rested when you wake up in the morning.

If you find that you can’t unplug that easily, try downloading a blue light filter on your computer, or asking your doctor about blue light filtering glasses, so that you can minimize the impact on your sleep. As we grow older, it’s important to recognize that maintaining a healthy sleep cycle is the best thing we can do for our bodies. It prevents illness, helps us heal faster, and leads to an overall sense of wellbeing that nothing can duplicate.

Jordana Weiss