Why Blue Light is Important for Sleep and Balance
- By Dizzy & Vertigo Institute
- October 31, 2022
Sleep starts before you lay your head down on your pillow. Hours before bedtime, our Circadian Rhythm begins its winddown phase, which means what you do in the lead-up to sleep is just as important as how long you sleep. And how you manage your light intake is the most crucial part of managing your Circadian Rhythm.
Effects of Blue Light
As we discussed in Best Sleep Habits for Vertigo Recovery, blue light is a major part of sleep and wakefulness. Our bodies have evolved to sleep and wake with the sun – the biggest source of blue light (UVB) in our lives. When our eye receptors receive blue light, we release cortisol into our bloodstream which makes us alert.
Blue light in the AM helps us wake up, which is why it’s important to get sunshine immediately upon waking. This also helps our Circadian Rhythm “set” a 16-hour timer for the day. In the evening as the sun wanes, we get less blue light which releases melatonin into our system and thus makes us sleepy.
Unfortunately, the second biggest source of blue light is our phones, computers, tablets, and TV screens, as well as fluorescent lights. The later in the day we stare at screens, the more artificial blue light our eyes intake, which misaligns our Circadian Rhythm and limits natural melatonin production.
Many of us watch TV or scroll on our phones until the minute we fall asleep. The effects of late-night blue light are:
- It takes longer to fall asleep
- We get less REM sleep (deep sleep)
- We wake up feeling sleepier
The most important thing you can do for better sleep is to manage your blue light intake throughout the day.
Managing Blue Light
We want to reiterate that blue light is not all bad. You should get blue light early in the day to wake you up, feel alert, and set your Circadian Rhythm. However, in the evening and night, it’s critical to eliminate blue light from your environment.
Here are some ways to manage your blue light later in the day.
Night Mode On Screens
Most smartphones come with a Night Mode or Night Shift of some kind programmed to trigger in the night-time. Night Mode switches the primary light wave emitted from the screen from blue light to red light, which helps promote the Circadian cycle talked about above. You might already recognize your phone screen switching to warmer color tones at night. This is good.
However, it’s worth double-checking your settings to ensure this auto-shift occurs. If you have an iPhone, you can learn more about enabling Night Shift here. If you’d like to edit your night mode settings to something redder, here’s a video on changing those settings. Additionally, the Circadian App helps track and manage your light intake to optimize your sleep cycle.
If you don’t have an iPhone, then search on Google for a night mode setting for your specific model.
For managing blue light on your computer screen, tools like f.lux are great for automatically triggering blue/red light filters throughout the day that match the sunrise and sunset.
Of course, this doesn’t solve the blue light from the TV, though. That’s where blue light glasses come in.
Blue Light Glasses
Blue light filtering glasses are a great addition to your toolkit. Especially if you work long or late hours in front of screens. They filter blue light emitted from screens and are particularly effective in limiting eyestrain, headaches, and migraines.
There’s a ton of optionality on the market for getting blue light filtering glasses.
- Felix Gray and TheraSpecs are both pioneers of this industry.
- VivaRays and EMR-TEK are also great options.
- There are a plethora of less expensive options on Amazon, as well.
- And if you use prescription glasses, then Costco, LensCrafters, Warby Parker will all add this blue light filtering tech to prescription lenses.
You shouldn’t be wearing these glasses during the first hours of your workday, as they suppress wakefulness hormone release. Just limit your use to evening and later hours.
In your bedroom and bathroom, you should consider installing red light bulbs. Because most of the time we spend in these two places is in the hours surrounding sleep, using red light-emitting bulbs can help promote melatonin production and thus relaxation. If you’re someone that frequently wakes up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, your fluorescent or LED bulbs can disrupt your Circadian Rhythm. Thus, red light bulbs will help ensure you’re not producing cortisol at 3 AM when you wake up to use the restroom.
Additionally, you should consider changing the lightbulbs throughout your household to dim, incandescent Edison-style bulbs. Modern lighting (LEDs, fluorescent) have a foreign blend of light frequencies that are heavy in the blue portion of the spectrum. They also flicker (at a rate perceived by our brain but not our eyes) to save on electricity. The Edison-style bulbs on the other hand don’t flicker and mimic the spectrum of light at sunrise and sunset.
Why It Matters to the Vestibular System
Like all systems of the body, the vestibular (balance) system has a rich interplay with other areas of health. Sleep, diet, mental health, and exercise are all things that can exacerbate or help resolve balance disorders. Thus, we must address them during the vestibular treatment process.
We’ve been significantly overly stimulated with unnecessary blue light and artificial bright light for extended periods of time. Managing blue light and understanding when to take breaks is not only a health benefit but also a vestibular benefit.
There are so many things that can cause our health and our balance system to spiral out of control, which is why it’s important to work with Vestibular Specialists who understand how to address all areas of health.
Our team at the Dizzy & Vertigo Institute specializes in bringing dizzy patients back to a dizzy-free life. And we’re eager to help YOU!
Schedule an appointment with us or give us a call at (310) 683-4679.