Seeing as our phones are the centre of our universe, it is of little surprise that it is the last activity that many people engage in before drifting off to sleep. I love nothing better than watching Netflix, yes on my phone and yes in bed.
A recent study has linked late night phone use to depressed moods, lower self-esteem and reduced coping abilities in teens. Alarming to me really as Netflix – on device – in bed, is not only an ingrained habit in my life, but also a much loved one. If late-night screens can potentially impact my mental health then what can I do about it? I need to know.
After some research, I am rather alarmed. Here are some blue light effects on health noted:
1. Negatively affects sleep quality and quantity
A very highly regarded study noted a substantial deduction in quality of sleep by the participant group that read with e-readers over normal books. Not only this, but the study indicated that the use of devices prolongs the time taken to get to sleep, delays the circadian clock, suppresses levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, reduces the amount and delays the onset of REM sleep and also reduces alertness the following morning. Note that melatonin is an anti-cancer agent, so suppression of this hormone is not a good thing.
2. Can make you hungrier and want to eat more
A study linked people who are exposed to more bright light at night to having increased hunger levels. This bright light at night makes people produce more insulin, which makes it more difficult for their body to turn late-night food into energy. As a result, it rests in the blood, where it makes diabetes more likely, or else it is stored as fat.
3. Can potentially increase inflammation in the brain and negatively affects new cell growth
Note that these were animal studies, so that this is not proven in humans. Ohio State University proved that even with very dim light exposure – over 8 weeks had a profound impact on the brain. It raised inflammation and lowered levels of a hormone that’s key for promoting new brain cell growth. It also caused transmitters between neurons to whither.
4. May potentially cause depressive like symptoms and memory problems
In the same animal study, the animals also showed “depressive like symptoms” and had memory problems.
5. May be linked to serious diseases such as Alzheimers & cancer
Last year, the U.S. National Toxicology Program convened a 2-day workshop to explore mounting research linking exposure to artificial light at night not just to sleep problems, but also to weight gain, depression, cancer, and heart disease.
Also, a study published last Monday, showed that people exposed to higher levels of blue light at night were more at risk of breast and prostate cancer. Note that this study focused on light from outdoor LEDs rather than smartphone and tablets.
However, it may be possible that the same applies since the physiology is the same.
Back to Netflix. Can I continue to watch this at night, without feeling guilty? Let’s see what Blue Light Technology we have on the market.
How to reduce Blue Light? What Blue Light technology is out there?
Built-in Phone Functions
Most phones now have an anti-blue light feature. On IOS, I have Night-Shift – I can reach by swiping up from the bottom of my phone and adjusting the light settings (Sun icon) to the most dim.
Blue Light Filter Apps
Yes, there exist certain glasses on the market which can block certain wavelengths of light emitted by electronic screens and make it easier to sleep. Certain studies have supported these products. A swiss study of male teenagers showed that when the kids wore orange glasses, shown to prevent melatonin suppression every evening for one week they felt sleepier than the kids who wore the clean glasses.
Other products that block blue light
More and more are coming on the market. One company is https://lowbluelights.com/ who provide filters for phones and devices that block blue light. Also, findable on Amazon are many brands who supply low led lamps that block blue light.
At this point I remain skeptical. I need an expert opinion so I consult one. I contact Richard Stevens, professor in the school of medicine at the University of Connecticut who has been involved in research in the area.
Do Blue Light Filters work? What is the safest to reduce Blue Light Exposure?
Advisable to avoid devices at night-time
The best option is to turn devices off and to put them away at least 2 hours before bed-time.
If you cannot do without devices, Built-in Phone Filters & Blue Light Blocker Apps such as F-lux are recommended
Built-in Phone Functions & these apps offer Blue Light Protection in that they can change the spectral content of light. They can dim the screens, make the length of the waves longer and can be effective.
The further away the device the better
The further away the device, the less it will impact your levels of melatonin.
Other products on the market not as much recommended
Other Blue Light Technology are not advocated but can be better than nothing.
Make sure to dim the lighting in your home at night
Use a dim incandescent light bulb at night rather than a compact fleurescent light.
If you need to use the bathroom in the night, use a dim light there only
A bright light will start lowering your melatonin immediately
Aim to get sunlight in the morning and day
Plenty of sunlight is advisable in the morning and in the daytime.
My Final Thoughts
Richard Stevens main point was that light is not good or bad – It is about timing. Evidence suggests that bright lights can effect our health in lots of ways but it has well been proven that bright blue light degrades your sleep and you should take all steps to avoid this.
My consensus? I am a bit freaked out by all of this. I may mix things up a bit by buying a good book. I am a Netflix addict so unlikely that I will stop altogether but will sure as hell make sure that I have night-mode switched on from here on out.
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