It’s no wonder the man who permanently changed the sleep of our whole world, was not much of a sleeper himself. He thought sleep was a waste of time and slept as little as possible. Little did he know that generations would follow this train of thought, causing an epidemic of sleep disorders.
Don't get me wrong, SO much good has come out of the development of the light bulb, but as with most reformations, some challenges have followed.
Let's talk a little bit about what the world of sleep looked like prior to Thomas Edison’s development of the light bulb: Evidence suggests that during long, dark winter months, our ancestors did what we know as “two sleeps” at night. They would go to bed around 8:30 and sleep for 3 or four hours, followed by 3-4 hours of wakefulness, then another stretch of sleep of 8 hours.1
It is astounding to think how far have we deviated from this pattern of sleep! The question we should be asking is what caused us to deviate so drastically from this sleep pattern and how is this affecting our health?
What Does Blue Light do to our Bodies?
Children, parents, infants are increasingly exposed to more and more light during the dark hours which have affected our sleep patterns. And not just any light, BLUE light. You see, we all are made out of wave particles, our very being is made out of wave particles that oscillate at different frequencies. Blue light specifically is a higher energy light that is able to penetrate through to the back of our eye into the retina in the back of our eye. In the retina, there are cells called primitive ganglion cells. 2 Two percent of these primitive ganglion cells are photosensitive. It is blue light, that triggers these ganglion cells. These cells send their signals on to our brain's suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN), which is a small collection of brain cells in our hypothalamus and is the home of our main circadian system or our biological clocks. 3
Before the light bulb, our wakefulness during the night would be facilitated by candlelight or fire. Fire and candlelight are in the red light range and the intensity of this light is such that does not interrupt sleep like light from electronics, night lights and really any other light in the home. The reason for this is blue LEDs are energy efficient and cheaper to produce, thus any gadget with an illuminated display will be producing blue light. Though, if the intensity is high enough, any color light exposure can suppress melatonin.
Exposure to light at night can have the same effect as does eating a doughnut. It causes you to crave another doughnut or something else that is unhealthy. And in the long term, blue light at the wrong time of the day can have the same effect as a bad diet can in the long term. Unfortunately, the effects of blue light exposure is not an issue talked about in the health realm nearly at all, and is hugely influential on one's health. It can be the tipping point for many health issues, both mental and physical.
According to Alan Burdick (author of ‘Why Time Flies'), vegetable strength and dexterity is compromised when exposed to light or darkness at the wrong times. Even the nutrition of the vegetable is compromised when the vegetable is exposed to complete darkness or non-stop light. How much more can a complex human being be influenced by light compared to a vegetable?!
An experiment that involved a small patch of skin behind the knee exposed to light during night resulted in disrupted sleep due to the exposed light interrupting the person's circadian rhythm. Even light exposure at night to a small part of our skin influences our circadian rhythm. 4
Unnatural amounts of light at night causes not only immediate hormonal levels to be influenced but also cause many (if not all) systems in your body that operates on a circadian rhythm to be re-set and up-leveled. This is not a small thing. Though unnatural light exposure does not “hurt,” the effects are unending if not dealt with over time.
When we speak about infants naturally having wakings at night (which they do!), do we ever touch on the fact that moms often have lights on in the bedroom while feeding? Do we ever talk about the intensity or color of the light used while nursing at night? Do we ever talk about what times lights are out in the house? Do we ever talk about the effect of the stress on the mom, and ultimately on the child when unnatural exposure to intense light happens?
IF we are truly talking about the holistic health of a family, we MUST discuss the effects of blue light and it's influence on stress on each individual's body, hormones, mental health. Not to mention the health of a household and family.
So, let's talk practically. What can you do about this?
- Lights should be dimmed an hour before bedtime. Because we are in an area of the world where sunlight varies depending on the season. Choosing a consistent and reasonable time in which light is dimmed will help your body work on a rhythm.
- When one must be awake during sleep hours, a dim, red or orange light should be used. An electronic candle, dimly lit salt lamp or night light or lamp using a red light bulb are great options.
- Using blue light blocking apps on your electronic devices can be helpful if you need to get work done during the night hours.
- During the summer months and in the city, blackout shades are a great way to block out street lights and such.
- Avoid driving an hour before your bedtime as headlights are intensely bright for one's eyes.
- If you are a night shift working (bless you for your sacrifice!) and alertness isn't crucial for your line of work, wearing blue light blocking glasses can be incredibly helpful.
- Upon waking, and all through the day until nearing bedtime, exposure to natural sunlight during the day encourages wonderfully natural daytime hormones that are crucial to setting our bodily rhythm.
The rhythm of our bodies should be something that is honored and not abused. The ripple effect of something we do not consider harmful is, in fact, contributing to illness in our generation, both mentally and physically. Let us open our eyes to the ramifications of unhealthy habits that we have adapted to be normal.