It seems a lot of us have trouble sleeping these days. My post on how to get a better sleep naturally has gotten really popular lately, so I wanted to share an unusual thing that has helped my sleep lately – wearing orange sunglasses at night.
If you look at the research, it turns out that wearing silly glasses can serve a serious purpose!
There is a lot of research showing that blue light after sunset can disrupt circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin production. More recent studies show that artificial light exposure at night has even more serious consequences.
Think about it, until the invention of electric light bulbs, people relied on the sun on the majority of their light. After dark, they only used natural sources of light like candles, campfires and lanterns (all orange lights). With the dawn of modern electricity, we suddenly had the ability to stay up with lights on for many hours after sunset.
With computers, TVs, tablets and phones, this use has extended even more, and these new technologies are especially high in blue light.
Electricity brought many benefits, but it also gave us the ability to mess with our circadian rhythm and our sleep cycles.
Researchers have known for years that shift workers and those who are regularly up late at night are at a higher risk for various cancers. More recent research shows that even recreational exposure to blue light for a few hours at night can have a negative effect.
Some researchers even promote the theory that the disruption of natural circadian rhythm from (blue) light after dark is a big contributing factor to the rise in obesity and chronic disease. There is even evidence linking this disruption of the sleep cycle to higher rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular problems.
Study after study has linked working the night shift and exposure to light at night to several types of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. It’s not exactly clear why nighttime light exposure seems to be so bad for us.
But we do know that exposure to light suppresses the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that influences circadian rhythms, and there’s some experimental evidence (it’s very preliminary) that lower melatonin levels might explain the association with cancer.
Shift workers and those up after 11 PM seem to be especially at risk for the negative effects of blue light. Research is showing that any of us who are up after dark looking at sources of blue light (TV, computer, etc.) are at risk. Since my work day begins when my kids go to bed at 8, avoiding these things was not an option so I looked for another solution.
Turns out, there is a simple way to reduce most of the blue light we see at night: orange sunglasses.
From Harvard again:
While light of any kind can suppress the secretion of melatonin, blue light does so more powerfully. Harvard researchers and their colleagues conducted an experiment comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light to exposure to green light of comparable brightness.
The blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light. It shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much (3 hours vs. 1.5 hours).
In another study of blue light, researchers at the University of Toronto compared the melatonin levels of people exposed to bright indoor light who were wearing blue-light–blocking goggles to people exposed to regular dim light without wearing goggles.
The fact that the levels of the hormone were about the same in the two groups strengthens the hypothesis that blue light is a potent suppressor of melatonin. It also suggests that shift workers and night owls could perhaps protect themselves if they wore eyewear that blocks blue light.
It is important to note that blue light in itself is actually a very good thing. Exposure to blue light (preferably outdoors) is important during the day to maintain proper circadian rhythm. It is only blue light at night that causes the problems. At night, blue light signals the body that it is still daytime (sunlight has a lot of blue light).
In fact, avoiding blue light during the day has been linked to depression and sleep troubles! It is important to get blue light, but only during the day when it benefits the body. I have a 10,000 lux light box (with blue light spectrum) that I use in the morning to help my cortisol rhythm for this reason.
Psychology Today explains the benefits of wearing blue-blocking sunglasses at night:
Shift workers are at especially high risk for circadian rhythm disruptions, because of their non-traditional schedules. In a study by scientists at Quebec’s Universite Laval, nightshift workers used blue-light blocking glasses at or near the end of their overnight shifts for 4 weeks. At the end of study period, their overall sleep amounts increased, as did their sleep efficiency.”
Limit or avoid TV, computer, phone, etc after dark
If that isn’t possible or plausible, use orange sunglasses to help greatly reduce the blue light. I’m wearing these Uvex glasses in the picture above. They were inexpensive and effective (they also have one that fits over reading glasses). I’ve since switched to these official blue blocking glasses that are slightly more stylish (and the ones you will see me in on video sometimes).