Get in the Know About Blue Light Exposure

It's nearly impossible to avoid and up to you to take caution and minimize access

Remember when we had computer class? As in, throughout an entire day of school, there was a mere one class designated to sitting in front of a computer.

These days, most of us spend the majority of our waking hours staring at a screen; whether it's a computer, cell phone, playing a video game, or just "winding down" in front of the TV. What's one thing all of those screens have in common? The blue light they emit.

What's blue light?

Blue light is electromagnetic particles that travel in waves and isn't actually harmful, itself. In fact, those wavelengths have been proven beneficial during daylight hours because of their ability to boost attention, productivity, reaction times, and mood.

Blue light is most commonly recognized in fluorescent and LED lights, flat screen TV and computer monitors, smart phones, and tablet screens. And while we have access to nearly all of those items throughout the day, it's night time and/or chronic exposure that becomes a need for increased awareness and taking action.

Melatonin/Sleep Disruption

Blue light is highly stimulating, which disrupts the body's natural production of melatonin (the hormone that helps your body and mind prep for drift-off to Sleepytown), interfering with the body's internal clock and hindering circadian rhythms.

Blue light suppresses melatonin production by up to 90%, tricking your internal clock into thinking it's noon regardless of the time of day. As one could guess, that easily jacks up the quality of your sleep and, therefore, your body's ability to heal and rebuild itself overnight.

Lack of said quality sleep (or sleep, in general) is directly associated with impaired mental capacities as well as physical health, including:

  • Weakened immune system

  • Increased risk for diabetes and heart disease

  • Lowered sex drive

  • Memory and concentration issues

  • Escalated symptoms of anxiety and depression

  • Impaired cell function (see the section on Mitochondria below)

Your most care-full choice at night just may be that to ditch all blue light exposure for the last 2-3 hours before bedtime. Even one hour will make a difference, especially as incrementally is often the way to break a habit.

RELATED: Habits and the Power of Incremental Change

Digital Eye Strain

Tech culture, as we've evolved to be, has acquired a term used to describe symptoms of added wear and tear to the eyes, resulting from overexposure to gadgets of the now.

Digital eye strain is an actual medical issue with symptoms that include blurry vision, difficulty focusing, dry and irritated eyes, headaches, and neck and back pain. It's slipped into the top spot for physically recognized computer-related complaint, having overtaken carpal-tunnel syndrome.

Blue light comes into play by decreasing contrast in device screens, leading to increased symptoms of digital eyestrain.

Adults and their habitual 40+ hour work weeks aren't the only ones being affected. Kids, having more exposure to tech devices than ever before in history, are actually at an even greater risk due to their actively developing bodies and minds.

According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, children and teenagers spend more than 7 hours a day consuming electronic media. Those 10 and under are especially affected as their crystalline lens and cornea are still largely transparent and overexposed to light; making blue light extra detrimental to their eyes' natural development.

Mitochondria Impairment

The biggest issue of all (and one less-seen in headlines) is the impact blue light waves have on Mitochondria, which produces energy in each of your cells, sustaining life, regulating cellular metabolism, and supporting organ function. No big deal.

When there is disfunction in the mitochondria, most often caused by (full circle) poor sleep quality, cells die off, organs begin to fail, and you become prone to all manner of serious diseases. Because sleep is a big deal. And so is the mitochondria.

Poor mitochondria health can affect almost any part of the body, including the brain, nerves, muscles, kidneys, heart, liver, eyes, ears and pancreas. Therefore, it's been linked to a laundry list of diseases including:

  • Alzheimer's

  • Autism

  • Cancers

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Dementia

  • Depression

  • Diabetes

  • Gastrointestinal disorders

  • Kidney & Liver Disease

  • Neurological issues such as migraines, seizures and strokes

  • Obesity

  • Thyroid problems

  • Respiratory problems

"The time of day determines the design of the mitochondrial network, and this, in turn, influences the cells' energy capacity," -Anne Eckert, Professor from the University of Basel's Transfaculty Research Platform Molecular and Cognitive Neurosciences MCN

What can you do?

Aside from, of course, growing more mindful and setting healthy boundaries for yourself around blue light exposure (especially at night), there are a couple steps you can take to protect your health from this overused wavelength.

  1. Get up at sunrise and journey outside for 15-45 minutes. Doing so will allow you to receive the full spectrum of sunlight signals into the eye, helping to create melatonin in the morning to be released in the evening.

  2. Protect your eyes from artificial blue light, especially after the sun sets. As you've likely seen on co-workers and in social media selfies, "blue light glasses" have become a decently well-known accessory.

  3. It's important to know that clear lensed glasses only block 25-50% of blue light (that in the lower 400-450nm range, for those really into the research). This will only help protect the eyes themselves from damage and reduce a bit of eye strain using devices during the day.

  4. If they don't block blue in the 450-500nm range, then after sundown they won't really help you on the circadian rhythm or cellular level fronts.

Get creative, read a book, write a book, play a game with pals, get to know your partner even better through actual undistracted conversation. Whatever it may look like for you, overall, just minimize your exposure. Especially after sunset.

By Sam Jump

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