Less than a decade ago, the use of electronic devices was not as common as it is now. Take the case of cell phones. We no longer use them only for making calls, sending text messages,or setting an alarm. Smartphones serve a whole range of purposes, letting us manage our social media handles, stay in touch with friends and family, and keep up with news from all around the globe. And if smartphones and laptop computers are not enough, now we also have smart watches to perform these tasks.
While we may be making our lives easier by packing numerous tools into such smart devices, the use to these devices comes not without a toll on our health and fitness levels. An example is the adverse effects of excessive exposure to blue light used in screens of these electronic devices.
Blue light has a short wavelength which produces a higher amount of energy. Exposure to it during daytime is beneficial as it boosts our attention, reaction time and mood. At night time, however, it proves disruptive as it can upset our body’s biological clock, also known as circadian rhythm.
According to Stephen Lockley, a sleep researcher at Harvard University, light at night is a key reason why people don’t get enough sleep. During night time, our brain secretes melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep. Exposure to light tricks the brain into thinking that it’s daytime, causing the suppression. This deteriorates the quality of our sleep and can cause serious long-term damage to our eyes.
Exposure to blue light at night not only disturbs sleep but also poses several health risks. According to research, it may also contribute to cancer, diabetes, heart diseases, and obesity. A Harvard University study put 10 people on a schedule that shifted their circadian rhythms. The blood sugar levels of all participants increased, as well as the leptin level. The former put them in a prediabetic state, and the lower levels of leptin left them feeling hungry even after meals.
Experimental evidence also shows that lower levels of melatonin may be associated with higher risk of depression and cardiovascular problems.
Contrary to popular belief, even dim light may negatively affect secretion of melatonin. Another research at Harvard compared the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue and green light on participants. The results found that blue light suppresses melatonin twice as long as green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School have suggested that dim red lights should be used at night as they have the least power to shift circadian rhythm.
It may take some time before we have smartphones and other popular electronic devices with screens powered with red lights. Fortunately, there are other remedies available to offset the adverse effects of blue light.
The latest upgrade to the popular mobile operating system, Android, comes with a blue light filter. Softwares are also available for both windows and IOS based systems that allow use of blue light filters. Finally, there are blue-blocking glasses available in the market that can be used to minimize exposure to it.