"The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today."
- Franklin D. Roosevelt
Thursday. Today is expected to be the busiest day of air travel across the holiday weekend. So as you wrestle with your GPS on the way to the airport, squint at your phone to recheck your departure gate, or numb the pain of yet another delay with the seventh season of “Workin’ Moms,” it might be time to think about the effect all that blue light is having on your health. Is it all bad news, or are the dangers of blue light exposure widely overstated? Let’s dive in.
Blue Light — Friend Or Foe?
Friend or foe, healthy or unhealthy, good or bad — we love giving things black-and-white labels when discussing nutrition, health, and wellness. Unfortunately, most things we talk about actually fall into a grey that requires some nuance to explain; blue light is no exception.
Today, we live in an era where screens are everywhere. We wake up and almost immediately stare at a screen to turn off our alarm and check emails and messages, we have screens in our cars to tell us where to go, we get to work and sit in front of a screen all day, and then we come home and decompress by watching a show on a big screen while taking breaks from that screen to stare at a smaller hand-held screen. And then we usually keep scrolling on that little screen until we fall asleep.
Could you imagine a day without the comforting glow of your smartphone, computer, or television? Impossible, I know. This begs the question: how does all that blue light impact our health?
Is it harmful? Should we avoid it like the office donut box on a Monday morning? Is there such a thing as healthy moderation? Are blue light-blocking glasses the answer?
It turns out that blue light may not be as bad for you as you think. In fact, it’s needed for good health. You see, not all blue light comes from screens — the sun is our best source of high-quality blue light. This light tunes our internal biological clock or circadian rhythm and is essential in ensuring the right hormones in our body do the right thing at the right time.
Blue light is primarily responsible for sleep and wakefulness, dictating when you should produce the soporific hormone melatonin and when it should produce cortisol.
However, a deluge of blue light after sunset is where most people run into trouble. Your body is trying to wind down, but you are scrolling through cat memes or headlines about how the economy is on the brink of imploding. Not only are those headlines stressful, but the blue light throws your brain into daytime mode. The result? You toss and turn instead of catching some Zs.
The remedy? Go old school. Swap screens for books an hour before bed. Remember those? Or you could use those fancy blue light-blocking glasses. Just remember that wearing them all day can be just as detrimental — it messes up your sleep-wake cycle by telling your brain that the sun has never come up.
In the grand scheme of things, blue light won't necessarily harm your eyeballs either. Overexposure may not be ideal, but it won't send you hurtling toward blindness. The issue is more about eyestrain, which can be remedied by spending some time staring at something in the distance during the day. One rule of thumb follow is the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and stare dreamily into the distance (about 20 feet away).
The key takeaway? Blue light is not all bad. We need it to regulate our circadian rhythm and ensure our hormones promote a healthy sleep-wake cycle. That said, we should get most of our blue light from the sun. This means getting outside for some sunlight in the morning, avoiding blue-light-blocking glasses during the middle of the day, and avoiding screens in the PM hours as best you can.
Blue light isn’t all bad, but blue light from screens probably isn’t doing any of us any favors.
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