Blue Light: The New Silent Killer
It wasn’t too long ago that smoking was extremely common, widely accepted as safe, and even promoted as healthy by doctors! It took years for the research to become mainstream knowledge that cigarettes are unsafe for our health.
Well, the new kid on the block is blue light, more specifically artificial blue light. Our current exposure to blue light as a modern society is insanely high, especially considering that humans evolved without ANY artificial light for hundreds of thousands of years! I would argue that its negative effects extend far beyond that of smoking yet it is barely talked about. The problem is, similar to smoking, the negative effects cause long-term damage rather than immediate noticeable effects hence it’s the new silent killer! I’m confident we will look back in a couple decades (hopefully sooner) and say “I can’t believe we didn’t know how bad blue light was”, similar to what we now say about smoking. The bad news is; we are currently in the middle of a blue light epidemic, the good news; there are many ways we can optimize our light environment to protect ourselves.
Dr. Jack Kruse, Neurosurgeon
We’re the only species smart enough to create artificial light, but stupid enough to live under it.
What is Blue Light?
You may have heard the term “Blue Light” with the rise in popularity of things like blue blocking glasses (aka blue blockers) and blue light screen filters such as Night Shift on iPhone, but what exactly is blue light?
Blue light is a spectrum of light (~400-495nm wavelength) that is emitted from the sun as well as technology such as computers, TVs, phones and LED lights. The visible spectrum of light (our best bud from elementary school science class ROY G BIV aka the colours of the rainbow) is part of the electromagnetic spectrum in between low frequency radio waves and high frequency gamma and x-rays. The entire electromagnetic spectrum has an impact on our body in some way, blue light is no exception!
*learn more about the electromagnetic spectrum in our last blog post: How to Avoid Getting EMF’d*
Context is very important, I want to be clear that not all blue light is bad. It’s not fair to paint “blue” as a bad guy, it’s just a colour after all! As with most things in health, balance is key and the further we remove ourselves from nature, the more issues we encounter.
What Does Blue Light Do? And Why Does It Matter?
First off we need to differentiate between natural blue light from sun exposure and artificial blue light from technology. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME.
Blue light from the sun is present primarily midday with small spikes before sunrise and after sunset. It is ALWAYS accompanied by red and infrared light, in other words there is no such thing as isolated blue light exposure in nature. Contrary to the sun, blue light from technology is present at all hours in our society and it almost never contains an appropriate amount of red and infrared light to balance it out.
Blue Light’s Effect On Our Body
- Boosts Cortisol and Blood Sugar
- It is naturally present during the day to keep your body awake, alert and performing daytime functions. It boosts your primary stress hormone cortisol as well as your blood sugar (yes, research shows that too much blue light can contribute to diabetes)
- Damages Eyes
- Excessive isolated blue light exposure increases oxidative stress damaging cells in the eye (especially the retina) contributing to dry eyes, macular degeneration, cataracts and potentially ocular cancers
- Ages Skin
- Similar processes occur in skin cells contributing to “photoaging” and potential skin issues
- Disrupts Circadian Rhythm
- This is the BIGGEST issue with exposure to blue light at night (sometimes referred to as ALAN= artificial light at night). Blue light suppresses melatonin production and release meaning it totally destroys your sleep quality.
- Melatonin is the body’s ultimate repair hormone. It protects and regenerates your cells and mitochondria while you sleep.
- Boosts Cortisol and Blood Sugar
Long term circadian disruption and lack of melatonin can contribute to cancer. Here is the conclusion of a 2016 study of 158 countries:
Al-Naggar and Anil, Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention, January 2016
Artificial light at night is significantly correlated for all forms of cancer. Immediate measures should be taken to limit artificial light at night.
In summary, artificial blue light causes excess stimulation and cellular damage while simultaneously suppressing it’s most powerful antidote, melatonin. In short, increased incidence of disease.
How to Optimize your Light Environment
How do we mitigate the damaging effects of artificial blue light?
The sun always has the perfect balance of light spectra at the right time to give us what our body needs. Go outside first thing in the morning and as much as you can throughout the day regulate your circadian rhythm and keep your body alert and active. Remember that blue light from the sun is ALWAYS accompanied by red and infrared light which counteract many of the damaging effects of blue light.
Blue Light Phone Filter
Check out this video to learn how to change the colour filter settings on your iPhone to reduce the amount of blue light present. Keep your brightness as low as possible and turn on night shift at all times (sorry we’re only familiar with iPhone). I keep these filters on all day but it is ESPECIALLY important at night.
Computer Screen Filter
For your computer screen download IRIS to filter out blue light and reduce flicker (more on this in another post). Use this link for 10% off!
F.lux is a free alternative that is less effective but better than nothing!
Change the Lighting in your Environment
Replace LEDs with Edison style incandescent bulbs for daytime use. After the sun sets, use red LEDs, salt lamps or best of all candles/fire light. This is extremely important at night to boost your sleep quality.
During the day, avoid using LED lights when possible and opt for natural light. Open a window if you can to get direct sunlight. Even natural light shining through glass is not ideal as the glass filters out most of the red, infrared and UV light leaving a higher proportion of blue light. But still, this is better than artificial lighting.
Get a Pair of NaturoBlocks Blue Blocking Glasses!
This is one of the simplest yet most effective health investments you can make. Good Quality nighttime sleep glasses that block out 100% of blue light (and some green) are an important hack if it isn’t possible to make your evening environment dark as mentioned above. Use these after the sun sets to protect your circadian rhythm and sleep.
Consider daytime energy glasses which partially block blue light (remember you still want some blue light during the day) if you stare at a screen during the day or are stuck in a suboptimal light environment. Do not wear blue-blocking glasses when you are exposed to natural light.
Make sure nighttime glasses have been tested to block 100% of 400-550nm (blue and green) or they are not going to be effective. Ensure that daytime glasses actually block the majority of blue light and the proper spectrum emitted by screens. Most “blue blockers” on the market are completely useless especially if the lens is clear. Don’t cheap out!
Cover Your Skin!
Your skin has photoreceptors that can sense light signals similar to the eye. This means that whenever you are outside you should maximize natural light exposure on your skin (without getting burnt) and be as close to naked as possible with sunglasses and prescription glasses off. When you are inside you want to minimize artificial light exposure on the eyes and skin by wearing long sleeves, pants and blue blockers at night.
As you may have already gathered, no amount of blue light at night is safe. The best thing you can do is eliminate blue light exposure at night by changing your environment. If that isn’t possible (which it’s not for most people in todays world!) use blue-blockers and cover your skin from artificial light as much as possible. Your body will thank you for it and reward you with deep and restorative sleep.
Don’t forget that your light environment is just as important as nutrition, exercise and any other foundation of health. Opt for natural light, you can’t outsmart nature.
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