Can LED lights affect our sleep?
So many of us know the drill, we spend all our evenings in the light of LED lamps, reading, watching TV or surfing the internet on our computers, tablets and and smartphones, sometimes even to the point that we turn off our LED lamp infused devices just right before we go to sleep and then sleep restlessly all night. But have you heard that some research suggests that the reason for bad sleep and restless nights might be your LED bulbs, especially the cool white LED lamps that emit light with a blue hue and that are so common in smart devices and room lighting options? We, of coarse, don’t blindly believe loud article headlines, which is why we decided to take a closer look at that how LED light affect our sleep and our overall health, because we don’t want to condemn LEDs as being bad before we know all the facts.
Background on how light affects our bodies
Our bodies run on something called Circadian Rhythms, which basically means that all of our behavioral, physical and mental changes in our bodies are based on a 24-hour cycle, which is affected not only by our bodies themselves but also by outside factors. And light is the main outside factor that is able to influence our Circadian Rhythms and give our body’s internal clock a cue to turn on or off certain genes that control our sleep patterns, hormones, body temperatures and other functions.
This means that light is able to control our sleep-wake cycle either by turning off the light which will initiate melatonin production in our bodies and will make us sleepy or by leaving the light on and that way suppressing the melatonin production and making us wide awake. But if any light is able to influence our sleep cycle, then why the controversy with blue toned LED lights?
Blue toned LED light controversy
Well it also goes back to the previously mentioned sleep cycle and how light influences it. Light is able to determine if you will feel sleepy or not, just by exposing or not exposing our eyes to it. But since our eyes are particularly sensitive to blue toned light, this type of light will influence our sleep-wake cycle even more. Where do LEDs fit into this? Well, because LED lamps give out more blue wavelength light than any other bulb including the fluorescent and old incandescence ones, that means that cool toned LEDs are more likely to mess with our sleep cycle and interfere with our sleep even hours after we have done basking in the blue toned LED lamp light.
So do we need to stop using everything that has LED lamps in them hours before going sleep?
The consensus seems to be that avoiding LEDs, either in the form of actual light bulbs or LED powered screens at least an hour before we go to sleep can help us fall asleep faster and sleep better. However, if that is not possible, and to many of us is it isn’t, because our overhead lights and bedside lamps are equipped with the more efficient LED bulbs and we work on our LED illuminated devices until bedtime, you should at least try to limit the amount of blue wavelengths you get from your lights and device screens. So we don’t automatically have to stop using LEDs and go back to inefficient and costly fluorescent or incandescent bulbs, we just have to find ways how to not get as big of a blue light exposure at night from them.
What can we do?
Well there are several things that you can do to keep using your LEDs and devices in the evenings just like before, but to also get a better nights sleep and avoid insomnia or feeling like you haven’t slept at all in the morning, even though you slept for full 8 hours.
- When it comes to your lighting you can just choose LED bulbs in warmer color temperatures. Color temperature essentially is the hue of the light that the bulb will emit, so if you buy a warm white light instead if cool white light, it will produce much less blue wavelengths and therefore will be easier on your eyes and your sleep. The color temperatures to look for are bulbs that have from about 2,400 to 3,000 Kelvins.
- But how to keep using your devices and not suffer from the consequences from the blue light that is illuminated from your screens? You can look into different blue light filter programs and applications for your specific devices, that puts a red toned overlay over your screen that will make the screen emit less blue light and therefore will be much friendlier to your eyes and sleep cycle. You can even find some apps that will automatically apply the blue light filter layer to your devices screen and will intensify it according to the sunrise and sunset of your location providing that your blue light exposure is even more limited.
- And lastly, for all those who love watching TV late at night, but still want to sleep well, you can look into getting special computer or TV glasses that have yellow-tinted lenses, which will filter out the blue light and limit the amount of blue light your eyes receive.
But isn’t blue light beneficial to us, too, in certain situations?
Lastly, I wanted to address the fact, that even though blue wavelength light does interfere with our sleep, which means that it is not as good in the evenings, it also have certain benefits to us at other times of the day. For example, in the mornings and during the long workdays the blue light that is emitted by our light bulbs and computer screens can actually help us be more awake and alert and therefore help us be more productive. How many times have you experienced situation that you just cannot keep your eyes open in the morning or after lunch, but you still have to keep working? Well try exposing yourself to larger dose of blue light and it might just help you wake up. You can either go outdoors in the daylight, which also has large amounts of blue wavelengths, since the color temperature of daylight is about 6,000 to 6,500 Kelvins, or just crank up the brightness of your computer or phone screen that is in front of you and let the blue light do its magic. Just remember to lower the brightness of the screens once you feel more awake, to limit the digital eye strain that LED illuminated screens often put on our eyes after a couple of hours, so LED lighting can work for you not against you.