Can’t Sleep? Blue Light Wavelengths may Interfere with Melatonin Production

Joseph Lauda

Ever been on your tablet or phone right before you went to bed only to have a tough time trying to get to sleep after? These devices use blue light wavelengths in their lighting system, which might be having more of an effect on you than you may have previously thought.

The Wall Street Journal reported on sleep-aid apps and the use of blue light to reset circadian rhythm. “None of the blue-light emitting devices have been tested in published clinical trials and some scientists say they seem to contradict science that finds blue light stimulates wakefulness.”

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Many sleep-aid products, like the NightWave, use the light to help induce sleep, which has prompted research into the subject. The research, however, nods to the fact that they could be keeping users awake instead of helping them ease into sleep. This happens because the blue light affects the production of melatonin in the brain, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The article continued to explain that melatonin is used to correct the body’s circadian rhythm. Melatonin is responsible for the functions that affect the circadian rhythm throughout the day, such as sleep for example. So, blue light hinders melatonin production making it harder for the body to induce sleep because the body isn’t processing that it is, in fact, time to sleep.

Many sleep aids are said to” reset” a person’s circadian rhythm, which is said to allow for an easier time falling asleep, however, the article explains that in some of the research provided on the subject, this has yet to be seen.

The article uses research discussed by Steven W. Lockley, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, in his discussion regarding the two main sleep products in question. The first is the Glo to Sleep mask, which is a goggle-like device that masks the eyes to project “sleep-inducing blue rays,” and the second is the Night Wave Light, a phone app that projects blue lights onto the ceiling to sync breathing up to a calming sleep-inducing state.

“Research over the past decade has found that cells in the front of the retina sense blue light and give signals that result in the suppression of the production of the hormone melatonin,” as stated in The Wall Street Journal. “Both the Glo to Sleep mask and the NightWave give off less than a fifth of a lux of light when measured at the eyes, the companies say. A lux is a unit of intensity of light measured over an area.”

“Studies have found that as little as 1.5 lux has a small effect on the body’s circadian clock while larger amounts have greater effects,” as stated in The Wall Street Journal. “It is possible amounts even smaller than 1.5 lux could affect the clock, [Lockley] adds, and for this reason many sleep specialists recommend sleeping in a room as dark as possible.”

But sleep aids aside, blue lights still exist in everyday objects, like tablets and smartphones, and these devices also use blue light wavelengths. In a Huffington Post article they take information provided by the Applied Ergonomics journal.

In the journal, researchers discussed the effects created by excessive tablet use prior to bed. Using research from the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, they studied the effect of devices like smartphones and tablets on the melatonin in 13 subjects.

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“The researchers found ‘that a two-hour exposure to light from self-luminous electronic displays can suppress melatonin by about 22 percent,’ study researcher Mariana Figueiro, an associate professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the director of the Light and Health Program, said in a statement. ‘Stimulating the human circadian system to this level may affect sleep in those using the devices prior to bedtime,'” as stated in the Huffington Post.

The researchers did mention that not all tablets emit the same amounts, so they couldn’t make a broad speculation regarding all tablets. “But ‘we recommended dimming these devices at night as much as possible in order to minimize melatonin suppression, and limiting the amount of time spent using these devices prior to bedtime,’ Figueiro said in the statement,” according to the Huffington Post.

So while it may not be certain that your specific tablet or phone may be projecting blue light waves and dashing your melatonin away. If you see a correlation between your pre-sleep tablet session and your sleep, you may want to take the experiment on yourself and take a reprieve to see if it helps you get to sleep easier.

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