The invention of artificial light has come long after the evolution of our genes. Artificial light used to just be present in our TV’s but now we are exposed to it through our cell phones, tablets, laptops, video games, virtual reality goggles, GPS/Radio screens in our car. The artificial light that we are subject to contains what is known as blue light and the blue light is something that is foreign to our biochemistry. Blue light is a certain wavelength that is present in sunlight and while it can be beneficial during certain times of the day, it can be quite disruptive during others!
What are the Dangers of Blue Light?
This blue light exposure can impair your sleep patterns (by suppressing melatonin) and circadian rhythms. Circadian Rhythms are our bodies natural patterns that should work in synchrony with the rising and setting of the sun. This used to be the case for our ancestors, prior to the invention of artificial light. A normal and traditional circadian rhythm works something like this:
As the sun rises and our eyes recognize light, we suppress melatonin secretion to allow our bodies to wake up.
As the sun starts to set and our eyes recognize darkness, we secrete melatonin to promote relaxation and sleep.
Now you can see where blue light can impact these natural patterns. Think about how many times you are sitting on your phone laying in bed late at night, or falling asleep with the TV on. The exposure to this blue light can drastically effect our bodies circadian rhythms.
So what is the risk? Research has found that impaired circadian function correlates with a higher risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. This is supported by studies that have shown that impaired circadian function can increase blood sugar levels and decrease leptin levels (our hormone that tells us we are full) Additionally, fatigue and lack of focus is common making you less productive, less energetic, more likely to be depressed, and more likely to make impulsive decisions that create long term or short term health risks.
Is Blue Light Always Bad?
No! Blue light during the right times of the day can actually be a good think since it can mimick a beautiful sunny day’s sunrise which is what the body is evolved to work with but rarely experiences since we do not sleep outside. You can actually buy devices to help you with this. I use a few a Philips GoLite travel blue light that’s a box you have sit on your desk in the morning. You have photoreceptors in the corners of your eyes that pick up that light and jumpstart hormones, neurotransmitters, etc. On gray days it’s a great pick me up! Blue light exposure in the morning can increase attention and focus, promote feeling of wellbeing and even improve reaction time! This is biohacking at its finest if we assure ourselves proper blue light exposure at the right times…we will live healthier, fuller lives with far less disease risk and depression. Maslow talked about the necessities in his hierarchy…sex, water, food, sleep…but light is another. It’s as critical to our long term survival as a species as others.
Are there photoreceptors elsewhere other than the eyes?
Yes. The ears…right behind the corners of the eyes. Maybe this is an evolutionary trait in the relative same area that if we had damage to one (eyes or ears, we would have a backup plan). I have also have headphones called a human charger that shines light through something that looks like ear buds in to your ears…crazy right?
Steps to Biohacktivism
- Try and eliminate ALL light sources at night if you can. Use a sleep mask. Tim Ferriss recommends the Sleep Master Sleep Mask ($25 on amazon)
- Use dim red lights for night lights…Red light has the least power to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin. ($11 for 2 on Amazon)
- Avoid looking at bright screens beginning two to three hours before bed.
- If you work a night shift or use a lot of electronic devices at night, consider wearing blue-blocking glasses (e.g. Uvex or Gunnar) or installing an app that filters the blue/green wavelength at night (Night Shift on iOS and NightLight on Android are baked in to the newest operating systems. On your laptop/PC you can download lux for free .
- Expose yourself to lots of bright light during the day, get out…get sun. If you can’t get enough son due to night shift work, chronic gray days, etc. than invest in a blue light for less than $100 like the Philips GoLite or the more expensive Human Charger. They can also help you reset the circadian rhythm if you travel often and experience jetlag)