Blue Light | The Proven Damaging Effects on The Eyes & Sleep
Today, more people than ever are trying to eat right, exercise, and cut out toxic products from their lives in an effort to be healthy. However, one of the most serious underlying causes of the diseases might be literally staring us in the face right now.
Blue light is everywhere in the modern world. Throughout most of human history, our light source came from one of three elements: the sun, moon, and firelight.
Now our world is inundated with bright light long after the sun goes down. From fluorescent lights, LEDs, smartphones, laptops, and TV screens, our eyes are regularly exposed to blue light. It’s not what nature intended for us, and it’s making us tired and worn down.
There’s a reason that experts, such as Dr. Jack Kruse, refer to blue light as “the number one health issue facing all modern humans.” It affects nearly every cell in the body but is mostly ignored by the health community in favor of discussing diet and exercise for health.
Want to protect the eyes, promote healthy sleep, and keep our general health? Read on to learn more about blue light and the damaging effect it can have on the body.
What Exactly is Blue Light?
Sunlight contains a whole spectrum of colors, including red, orange, yellow, green, and blue lights. How our eyes interpret each color depends on the wavelength and energy of that specific ray. When we see “white” light, it’s a perfect blend of all the colors. A “softer” light includes the lower lights on the energy spectrum, mostly orange.
Blue light stands out because it has the highest amount of energy and the shortest wavelength of all the colors. On the light spectrum, blue is the last of the visible lights before it starts entering ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
Just as we know that UV can be harmful to our skin and eyes (only one day at the beach without sunscreen will painfully remind us of its effects if we haven’t been building a solar callus by exposing our bodies to morning sunlight), blue light, although it might not burn us to the extent of UV, will also damage our eyes and bodies with its high energy.
One of the problems with blue lights, in particular, is that the body doesn’t have specific defense mechanisms for it as it does for UV rays. When we’re exposed to UV rays, our bodies will work hard to filter it out because we have been exposed to it for most of human history. Blue light, however, is relatively new. Although we get some blue light from the sun, we don’t get it all the time (during the winter there isn’t nearly as much blue light), and it’s limited to mostly the middle of the day.
Although the lightbulb has been around since 1879, we’re only just starting to learn about the potential consequences of artificial bright lights.
Blue Light and The Eyes
The constant assault of blue light on our eyes could be having a more significant impact than one might think. Researched has linked the over-use of blue light in society to an increasing number of eye problems, including:
The high-energy blue light causes damage to the light-sensitive cells in the retina. The damage causes changes to the eye that resemble macular degeneration and leads to permanent vision loss.
For a while, some scientists tried to argue that blue light wasn’t harmful to the eyes, but then chemists at the University of Toledo put that argument to rest. In their research paper, they pinpointed precisely the process of how blue light destroys the eye. They found that the light distorts a specific form of vitamin A, retinal, in the eye that leads to retinals’ demise. While that doesn’t hurt the eye once or twice, the assault day after day (like most of us experience with our daily use of screens, phones, and LED lights) led to age-related macular degeneration.
Considering that age-related macular degeneration accounts for nearly half of all vision-impairment, our constant use of light might be up for scrutiny.
Ever spend the day (or even a few hours) working intently at a computer screen only to walk away with burning eyes? Dry eye is another common effect of the blue light that comes from our devices.
Blue lights lead to oxidative damage, and our eyes respond with inflammation. Also, blue light commonly effects with sleep (which we’ll discuss in depth below). The lack of sleep reduces the body’s androgen levels. While this causes a lot of problems in the body, one of the most prominent is that it causes dry eyes.
The damaging effects of blue light are well-known by experts and even harnessed to fight diseases. Doctors now use blue light to kill off a strain of bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, on the eye. If blue light can be that deadly to bacteria in a short amount of time, though, what is it doing to the cells in the eye with lower exposure all the time?
Are the eyes burning a little more than they used to? It might be time to reassess blue lights in our home and how we want to use those screens.
Although the body may not have adequate mechanisms to protect our eyes from blue lights, it does try. However, it comes at a cost to the body.
In an attempt to save the eye form retinal damage, the body goes into rescue mode at the expense of the lens of the eye. Scientist discovered that the lens’ proteins produce yellow pigment to reduce retinal damage to the eye and absorb light. The lens becomes more effective at absorbing blue light as the cataracts form.
Experts have long known that extended sunlight exposure is a risk factor for developing cataracts, but research is finding increasingly that the real culprit behind it was the blue light.
In fact, one study of senior citizens with cataracts found that wearing blue-blocking lenses helped their sleep quality, which is a common problem amongst cataract sufferers.
Want the kids to avoid glasses? Consider limiting their screen time.
There have been multiple studies that link the number of time kids spend in front of screens (and getting an increase of blue light) and their need for glasses. The continual assault on young, developing eyes might have more of an effect than some parents realize.
In one study of over 5800 schoolchildren, researchers found that myopia (nearsightedness) correlated with longer screen reading times. On the other hand, another study found that outdoor activities prevented myopia in children. These studies accounted for intensity of exercise and amount of studying, and they still found that children who spend time away from screens and blue lights and playing outdoors end up enjoying healthier eyes.
Blue Light and Sleep
Not only does blue light affect the health of our eyes, but it also can have an incredible impact on the length and quality of one’s sleep. Sleep is a common problem in the modern world: currently, 50-70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder with insomnia the most common disorder.
Although interrupted sleep may be common, it’s not normal and not healthy. What can we do to help ensure getting a good night’s sleep? For one, it might be time to step away from the blue light.
Some of the ways blue light can disrupt sleep include:
At night, the body releases melatonin to help us feel tired and fall asleep. However, the massive amounts of blue light that we are exposed to keep our bodies from sending the signal to release melatonin. Without the melatonin, we won’t get the message to go to bed when it’s time and are more likely to skimp on sleep.
While all light can potentially suppress melatonin, blue light, in particular, can be detrimental to our sleep. Harvard researchers found that it suppresses melatonin far more powerfully than any other color. In fact, it affected the body twice as long and twice as much as a green light.
In addition to losing out on precious sleep, suppressed melatonin affects the entire body. Study after study has linked suppressed melatonin to a wide array of health problems. Just some health issues are:
Given that these are all fairly recent wide-spread problems in modern society, could it be that our technology and increased nighttime lights are at least partly a cause?
Blue light is vital for regulating the circadian rhythms in the body. The circadian rhythm is the 24-hour cycle within the body and regulates far more than just our sleep-wake cycles. It tells our body when to sleep, rise, eat, and perform all the tasks we naturally do daily.
The circadian rhythm is particularly sensitive to light. A certain amount of exposure to blue light during the daytime is healthy and helps enhance the rhythm. However, it gets completely disrupted when exposed to blue light at a time it wouldn’t usually.
The body gets the signal, then, to keep acting as though it is daytime. Disrupted circadian rhythms can make going to sleep harder than it would otherwise be.
The last piece in the trifecta of disrupted sleep is the release of cortisol at night. The increase in cortisol in the system is a downward spiral for sleep. It further decreases melatonin secretion and is part of the cause of the lack of sleep. However, in response to the lack of sleep, the body creates more cortisol.
Whatever way we look at it, blue light is detrimental to sleep. Once we have disrupted our sleep and circadian rhythm, it might take some work to get it back to normal and can quickly spiral into a worse problem.
Blue Light: A Hidden Epidemic
It’s not uncommon for people who are otherwise conscientious about their health to still suffer from modern chronic health problems. Blue light may be one reason why. It has a damaging effect on the whole body, but especially the eyes and sleep patterns.
If we want to find an easy way to improve our health, put down the phone, turn off the LED lights, and get out in the sunlight!
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