SERP Research: Blue Light, Electronic Devices, and Sleep

This year, a group of SERP sophomores, Iqura Naheed, Fiza Akram, and Tharushi Perera, conducted a study investigating the effect of blue light emitted from electronic devices on sleep. They recently submitted their findings to the W!SE Quality of Life competition and are working on possible solutions to address the issue.

Technology is a cornerstone in all U.S. teenagers lives. In fact, previous studies have shown that adolescents spend around 9 hours per day on electronic devices when the recommended amount of time is approximately 1-2 hours (Bauder, 2015; “Screen time and children,” 2015). Not only are electronic devices used for entertainment (i.e. games, social media), but they are also used for educational purposes (Nagel, 2014). For instance, many teens use electronic devices to communicate with peers and teachers, view video explanations, and take online tests and assessments both in and out of the classroom (2014).

We all know how bad looking at screens all day can be for our eyes, but the damage might be worse than previously thought. Blue light, visible light between 460-480nm, emitted from our favorite procrastination devices may be keeping us up all night by interfering with basic biological functions in our bodies (Beaven & Ekström, 2013).

We all have circadian rhythms; they are our internal clocks that regulate sleep and wake times (Holzman, 2010). The circadian rhythm itself is managed by a hormone called melatonin which is produced by the pineal gland in the brain (“Melatonin,” n.d.). Photosensitive cells in the retina that carry signals via melanopsin to the hypothalamus regulate the secretion of melatonin. Melatonin is absent or at low levels during the day time and is mostly produced at night, which is why we feel sleepy at night and awake in the morning (“Melatonin,” 2014).

Excessive nighttime light can repress secretion of melatonin (Holzman, 2010). Low melatonin levels after dark also desynchronize the circadian rhythm by pushing it back 2-3 hours which causes you to feel sleepy later during the day than you normally would, resulting in less sleep (Breus, 2014). Essentially, staring at your devices at night tricks our body into thinking it is day time.

Any light can be a distraction; however, blue light is particularly harmful because it suppresses melatonin production. To illustrate, Harvard researchers found that blue light suppresses melatonin for twice as long compared with green light, showing a profound effect on sleep (Harvard Health). Because sleep is vital to students’ ability to perform well in school, the lack of sleep that may be caused from blue light emitting from electronic devices is a real concern (“Why Is Sleep Important,” 2012).

Luckily, there are a number of different ways to reduce blue light exposure. One way is to use electronic devices less after dark. However, various factors such as schoolwork make this solution somewhat impractical for teenagers. Therefore, another solution is to install a blue light filtering software for the device. A number of programs such as f.lux, twilight, and easyeyes are all inexpensive, easy, and effective ways of reducing blue light (Dhiman, 2014). While the Apple app store does not offer as many blue light filtering options, Apple has recently come up with a new feature called nightshift (which comes with the iOS 9.3 upgrade) that adjusts the color temperature of the screen to filter out blue light (Swider, 2016).

Screen protectors and blue light blocking glasses are more expensive options, but are nevertheless effective in reducing blue light. In fact, University of Toronto researchers found that participants wearing blue light blocking goggles while looking at bright light had similar levels of melatonin as people who looked at a regular light (“Blue Light has a Dark Side,” n.d.).

In conclusion, blue light from the devices we love is killing the sleep we also love. So next time you’re in bed, turn that phone off and get some sleep. The people you’re texting should be sleeping too. If you would like to know more about blue light and the findings of the SERP group, their paper will be published in the end of the year in the SERP Journal.

 

References

Bauder, D. (2015, November 3). Teens spend about 9 hours on screen every day. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/teens-spend-about-9-hours-on-screens-every-day_56391939e4b0307f2caafa2b

Beaven, C. M., & Ekström, J. (2013). A comparison of blue light and caffeine effects on cognitive function and alertness in humans. PLoS ONE, 8(10): e76707. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0076707

 

Blue light exposed. (n.d.).  [Digital Image]. Blue Light Exposed. Retrieved April 20, 2016, from http://www.bluelightexposed.com/#bluelightexposed

Blue light has a dark side. (n.d.). Harvard Health. Retrieved March 14, 2016, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side

Breus, M. J. (2014, March 24). Blue light hazardous to sleep, but helpful to daytime functioning? The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-michael-jbreus/blue-light-sleep_b_4993859.html

Dhiman, V. (2014, March 20). 5 best alternative apps like f.lux for android. Nerd’s Magazine. Retrieved from http://nerdsmagazine.com/apps-like-flux-for-android/

Holzman, D. C. (2010, January). What’s in a color? The unique human health effects of blue light. Environmental Health Perspectives. Retrieved October 15, 2015 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2831986/

Melatonin. (2014, April 24). NCCIH. Retrieved March 10, 2016, from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/melatonin

Melatonin. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster. Retrieved October 21, 2015 from http://www.merriamwebster.com/dictionary/melatonin

Nagel, D. (2014, April 08). One third of U.S. students use school-issued mobile devices. THE Journal. Retrieved from https://thejournal.com/articles/2014/04/08/a-third-of-secondary–students-use-school-issued-mobile-devices.asp

Screen time and children. (2015). MedlinePlus. Retrieved November 29, 2015 from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000355.htm

Swider, M. (2016, March 29). Night shift: How this iOS 9.3 feature helped me sleep better. Techradar. Retrieved March 30, 2016 from http://www.techradar.com/news/phone-and-communications/mobile-phones/night-shift-how-this-ios-9-3-feature-helped-me-sleep-better-1317815

Why is sleep important? (2012). National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Retrieved October 16, 2015 from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why

By Ciaran Farley, Iqura Naheed, Fiza Akram, and Tharushi Perera

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