SLEEP
January 12, 2018

Amber Waves of Sleep

There's a way to avoid the sleep-depriving effects of computer, phone, and TV screens late at night. Counteract the blue light with these.

You've probably heard how late nights basking in the blue light your computer, television, phone and tablet give off can disrupt sleep. If you don't want to give up your late night screen time but still want a good night's sleep, you might consider investing in a pair of amber-tinted glasses. In a small study, wearing the glasses late at night helped participants sleep better.

Blue light at night causes the brain to manufacture less melatonin, a hormone important in triggering sleep. Most computers, phones and other electronic devices have screens that give off a lot of blue light, even if the color of the light doesn’t appear blue (white light is made up of all the colors of the spectrum).

When they wore glasses with lenses tinted amber, study subjects slept about 30 minutes longer at night.

That's why medical scientists advise not using electronic devices an hour or more before going to bed. But whether it's Facebook, Instagram, or reaching the next level of a game, many ignore this advice. Now there may be some help for everyone.

Twenty-four study participants who had been diagnosed with insomnia were divided into two groups. Half wore lightweight wraparound glasses with clear lenses and the other half wore amber-colored lenses for two hours before bedtime seven nights in a row. Four weeks later, they repeated this, using the lens type they hadn't used the first time. They also wore wrist monitors and filled out sleep questionnaires afterward.

When they wore glasses with lenses tinted amber, a brown-tinged orange color, study subjects slept about 30 minutes longer at night. They also reported feeling better: a greater duration, quality and soundness of sleep and an overall reduction in insomnia severity.

The amber lenses filtered out much of the blue light that would normally reach the eye but did not lower the overall level of light. Orange lenses, which were not tested in this study, may be even more effective, as they block more blue light than amber lenses.

Many smartphone screens can now be adjusted to emit amber instead of blue light and, according to the study's lead author, Ari Shechter, an Assistant Professor of Medical Sciences at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, wearing them should help improve sleep. “I do recommend using the amber setting on smartphones at night, in addition to manually reducing the brightness levels. But blue light does not only come from our phones. It is emitted from televisions, computers and, importantly, from many light bulbs and other LED light sources that are increasingly used in our homes because they are energy-efficient and cost-effective,” he said.

The study appears in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

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