The dark side of blue light – your digital display is affecting your sleep

Dreamcatcher imageBeing a Digital Nomad has so many advantages when it comes to managing our time. We can choose to work at any hour of the day or night, and on any day of the week.

So for many of us, that means that we are often at our computers after dark. While this works for our lifestyle, staring at our display after the sun goes down could damage our eyes and also have an adverse effect on the quality of our sleep.

study published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that “exposure to short-wavelength-enriched light emitted by these electronic devices, given that artificial-light exposure has been shown experimentally to produce alerting effects, suppress melatonin, and phase-shift the biological clock.”

Melatonin is a light-sensitive hormone produced by the body every evening and during the night. Melatonin helps us get to sleep and also helps our body keep track of whether it is morning, afternoon, evening or night. If our melatonin production is out of whack, we will feel tired at odd hours of the day and not get a restful night’s sleep.

And when we are travelling, dealing with jet lag is tough enough without adding more confusion to our already challenged circadian rhythms, so read on …

A bit of science

If you think back to your high school science class, you may remember that sunlight contains red, orange, yellow, green and blue light rays and many shades in between to make up the visible spectrum of sunlight. Combined, these light rays create what we call “white light” or sunlight.

Rays on the red end of the visible light spectrum have longer wavelengths and have less energy. Rays on the blue end of the spectrum have shorter wavelengths and have more energy, so they pass through the cornea and penetrate all the way to the retina. Studies have shown that exposure to too much blue light can damage our retinas.

When we are looking at computer screens and other digital devices that emit significant amounts of blue light, we are not only affecting our sleep cycle, we are increasing the strain on our eyes.

So what is a Digital Nomad to do?

We can change the amount of blue light that our devices emit by installing a free app called FLUXflux-icon-sm

This app changes the color of your computer’s display, automatically adapting to the time of day – warm (or less blue) at night and like sunlight during the day. It knows your sunrise and sunset times based on your location, so once it is set up, you don’t have to change anything – it even adjusts for daylight savings time. But do remember to change your location when you are traveling or you could be looking at a very orange screen at 2 in the afternoon.

You can install this app in a few seconds, set your location, and away you go. Since I am often at my computer for many hours a day (and use 3 monitors when I am at home!) I have tweaked the default settings to “warm up” my screen during the day, and warm it up even more at night.

If you are a photographer or a designer and need to have an accurate color rendition on your screen, you can set FLUX to be automatically disabled when using a specific application such as Photoshop. How cool is that?

The app works on most devices, so load it on your phones and tablets too. The download is available for Mac OS X as well as Windows, Linux, iPhone, iPad, and Android. No more waking up to a 3 am call and getting blinded when your phone lights up!

Give it a try – you will sleep better and your eyes will thank you!

Sandra Walsh signature

Photo credit: Jamie Handley

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