If you’ve struggled with sleep long enough, you’ve probably uttered the words “I’ve tried everything and nothing works.”
Blockling blue light to sleep better might sound unbelievably simple, especially if frustration has set in from a chronic struggle to fall asleep, and it is. And the great news is that there are several ways to block blue light effectively.
The only question that remains is, how are blue light & sleep actually connected?
Blue Light & Sleep—or No Sleep
To better understand the connection between blue light & sleep, let’s take a look at the two things that govern sleep: the sleep clock and melatonin.
Everyone has a sleep clock, and just like a bedroom clock has an alarm that tells you when to wake up, your sleep clock is the alarm that tells you when to go to sleep.
Your sleep clock tells time using light and by measuring an energy byproduct called adenosine. The amount of adenosine that’s been produced indicates how long you’ve been awake and when you need sleep. These are the small and big hands of your clock. Once sunlight has been absent for a period of time, and you have produced a certain amount of adenosine, your sleep clock will signal that it’s time for sleep.
Now your clock will rely on melatonin to be the battery that powers the rest of the sleep process.
Blue light tricks your sleep clock into thinking it’s daytime, causing it to suppress melatonin release from the pineal gland and stimulate cortisol release from the adrenal glands instead, leading, of course, to difficulty sleeping.
So, depending on the depth of exposure, blue light will cause you to press snooze on your sleep clock, never hear it in the first place, or worse yet, unplug it altogether and cause the same time to flash repeatedly.
Blue Light & Sleep’s Main Ingredient
Melatonin has a sleep-inducing effect when it enters the bloodstream, but it also allows various sleep programs to be “opened” and run. These activities combine and leave you with that irreplaceable feeling of having received the best sleep possible.
Melatonin is vital to good sleep—and if you want optimal melatonin, you must be able to accumulate it and then hold onto it.
Before melatonin has its sleepful effects on the body, it starts out as a molecule in the eye—a byproduct of sunlight interacting with the amino acid tryptophan in the retina. Melatonin then travels through the optic nerve into the brain before it arrives at the pineal gland, where it waits until darkness to be released.
We know that blue light causes the pineal gland to suppress melatonin release, but it also causes the disintegration of melatonin molecules in the eye before they can even make their way to the pineal gland.
So not only does blue light suspend sleep by telling your brain to behave as if it were daytime, but when blue light has finally dissipated enough melatonin molecules, there is simply less melatonin available to sustain sleep.
Put the Ease Back Into Sleep
The most challenging part of blue light & sleep problems is that you can’t sleep but you don’t understand why.
Blue light can be very frustrating because it only alters half your sleep clock, so even though a part of your clock thinks it’s not time for sleep, the other part knows you need it badly. When you try to fix your sleep using other measures and it doesn’t work, a simple physical problem has now become emotional as well, and you start believing your problem is unique and perhaps even unresolvable.
But, there is an easier way in with sleep.
Hygiene factors like keeping a cold, dark, and quiet room and sleeping on the right mattress are easy ways to create better sleep. When you can combine good hygiene with routines that naturally expose you to less unnatural blue light, sleep will become less mysterious and your confidence to sleep will increase tremendously.
Get Enough Sunlight
Sunlight is important because it’s what allows your body to naturally make melatonin and set your sleep clock, when blue light from morning sunlight reaches the pituitary gland.
However, another value of being outside in unfiltered sunlight is that you aren’t being exposed to too much blue light by default. Being outside means you aren’t in front of a blue lit computer, and it also means you aren’t behind your car or kitchen window.
Even though it’s a natural light source, when sunlight is filtered by glass, UV light becomes partially blocked—but blue light isn’t, so your eyes are exposed to more blue light than you (as a human being) were evolved to see.
Opening a window, even slightly, can help let in more UV light and bring a healthier balance of blue.
Block all the Blues
Wearing blue blocker glasses at night is the easiest and most effective way to prevent blue light from interfering with sleep. It’s necessary to block either 400-500nm of light or 400-550nm of light. Blocking these frequencies will block the entire blue light spectrum and most of the green light spectrum too. These lenses have an amber or red tint.
When wearing this type of high quality blue blocker, blue light can’t enter the brain through the eye and confuse your sleep clock. Your sleep clock stays on time, and your pineal gland is able to release an abundant amount of melatonin.
Blue light filters are another great way to minimize your overall blue light exposure.
Iris is a program you can download for your computer and phone that allows you to block as much blue light as you’d like. I prefer this to filters you place directly on your devices, which only partially block blue light.
Red light bulbs are not only effective, but they can create an ambiance that is very sleep inspiring. By blocking blue light, their hue is relaxing and it can help influence behaviors that are conducive to sleep while preventing those that aren’t.
Close in on Your Best Sleep
No matter what kind of sleep you’re currently getting, blocking unnatural blue light will improve its quality. The science makes that clear.
Unlike many sleep approaches, blocking blue light empowers you to sleep in the most healthy way possible, because it simply removes sleep’s biggest nemesis—blue light. Doing so allows your brain to induce and sustain sleep using its natural programming, the programming that supplements and sleep products try to emulate.
Where supplements and pills will try to “cause” sleep more forcefully, blocking blue light helps you gain the rhythm and ability to do so in a more natural and subtle way. Because of this, it’s important to remember using patience and consistency when blocking blue light.
When sleep happens this way, it’s more effective and enhances your sleep confidence too, which is important if you struggle with a fear and anxiety of not falling asleep. The connection between blue light & sleep can be broken with the simple techniques above, and you can get the healthy sleep you need.