How much time do you spend thinking about your light consumption? If you’re like most people, the answer is: not enough.
Controlling light exposure isn’t something our pre-industrial, pre-digital ancestors had to worry about. But in today’s perpetually lit-up world, it’s important for us all to regulate how we consume light–and the timingof light our consumption. Light has tremendous effects on sleep and health, and too much light, especially in the evenings, can seriously undermine sleep. Blue light, we’ve learned, is especially detrimental to sleep and health, when we’re exposed to too much of it and our exposure comes at the wrong times of day and night.
Where’s all this blue light coming from? Screens are a major source. But so is environmental lighting, including the energy efficient lights in our own homes and public spaces, from airplane cabins to movie theaters.
Limiting screen time is one way to reduce and control light exposure. But for most of us, it’s not going to get us consistently the protections we need from excessive blue light exposure. That’s why blue light blocking glasses are important to consider. Unlike filters that go over individual screens, light-blocking glasses go with you—so you’re always prepared to limit your exposure to blue light when you need to.
Some of you may already know, I have developed a line of blue light blocking eyeglasses– you can check them out here: www.sleepdoctorglasses.com.
With the respected eyewear developers Luminere, we put the latest science to work in creating glasses that filter out blue light, to protect sleep and circadian rhythms, and reduce the eye strain and potential eye damage that comes from too much exposure to blue light. We actually created two pair of glasses—every pair of Sleep Doctor glassescomes with a pair of UV-A and UV-B blocking sunglasses. (And both have the same cool, retro style.)
I’m really excited about our glasses, and I love hearing from so many patients and others about how much better everyone is sleeping now that they’re using them. But whether you buy mine or another product, I want everyone to know why it matters so much to protect yourself against excessive blue light exposure—and how to pick the best, most effective glasses for you.
#1: Here’s why you need to wear them
Blue lightis uniquely disruptive to sleep and circadian rhythms.
What is blue light? It’s the shortest wavelength of light on the visible light spectrum. Sunlight contains blue light, along with the other visible light wavelengths.Both energy efficient and digital lighting contain high concentrations blue light.It’s not that any and all exposure to blue light is harmful. But because of our constant exposure to digital screens and bright nighttime environments, most of us are consuming way too much blue light—and doing so at the at very worst times for sleep.
There’s a large—and growing—body of research demonstrating the hazardous impact of blue light on sleep and sleep-wake bio rhythms:
- Studies show bluelight aggressively inhibits the production ofmelatonin, a hormone that is a central regulator of circadian rhythms and also is essential for sleep. Research shows blue light suppresses melatonin for more than twice as longas other visible light wavelengths—and alters circadian rhythms by twice the degree.
- Room light that’s rich in blue wavelength light from high-efficiency light sources also suppresses melatonin.
- At the same time blue light inhibits melatonin, it also stimulates the production of cortisol, a major stress and alerting hormone that interferes with sleep.
- Exposure to blue light shortens sleep timeand leads to more awakenings throughout the night, resulting in less refreshing sleep and more fatigue the next day.
- There’s also some significant emerging research showing that blue light may inflict unique damage on the cells in our eyes. Studies indicate blue light has a unique capacity to inflict damage on the health and function of our eyes, raising risks for eye diseases including cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. (Poor sleep itself can also contribute to problems with vision, as research shows.)
- There’s emerging evidence of connection between blue light exposure and elevated risk for certain cancers, including breast and prostate cancers. There’s also a developing connection between blue light exposure and obesity, as well as diabetes.
Blue light exposure isn’t just a problem for adults. Kids, as we all know, tend to be big-time screen users. Research shows that children’s exposure to blue lightat night causes their bodies to produce less melatonin and to feel less sleepy at bedtime.
The good news? A large and growing body of research demonstrates that blue light blocking glasses can be highly effective at filtering out blue light and restoring healthy sleep and bio rhythms. Studies show wearing blue light blocking glasses can:
- Improve symptoms of insomnia
- Increase sleep amountsand sleep quality
- Reset circadian rhythms
- Improve cognitive performance, including memory and learning, and how quickly the brain processes information
Read on to learn about how to get these protections by choosing the right pair of blue light blocking glasses.
#2: They don’t darken your vision
I get this question from my patients a lot. High-quality glasses made with amber lenses will effectively block blue light without darkening vision. Amber lenses absorb blue light and other stimulating light, while allowing other, less alerting light wavelengths to pass through, so you can still see clearly for normal activities such as working on a computer, reading, or watching television. I’ll talk more in just a minute about the benefits of amber lenses compared to clear lenses, along with other features that are important for selecting the right pair of glasses to block blue light.
#3: Blue light blocking glasses can benefit everyone
We all have different challenges when it comes to our individual light consumption. Some people spend 10 hours a day in front of a computer; others travel constantly and are exposed to light at odd and changing hours of the day. Gamers log plenty of screen time. Lots of us like to wrap our evenings watching Netflix. These are different habits, that share a common risk: excessive blue light exposure.
I tell my patients: light is medicine. Every one of us needs to manage light exposure to minimize the sleep and health risks of too much blue light. Especially at night, when our bodies need darkness to stimulate melatonin production, blue light blocking glasses can help all of us minimize the sleep-depriving, bio rhythm-altering damage blue light wavelengths cause.
#4: Light blocking apps don’t work
These built-in apps are a good idea in theory. But scientific evidence shows these apps are likely not effective at doing the job they’re intended for: blocking enough high energy light to protect the body’s natural bio rhythms, and the nightly rise in melatonin that makes sleep possible.
For example,a 2018 study found that Apple’s Night Shift app—found on its iOS devices, including iPhones and iPads—DID NOT reverse the melatonin suppression that arises from our evening exposureto these devices.
About 9 in 10 of us are using electronics routinely within an hour of bedtime. For many us, that means taking our phones and tablets to bed—to read, to scroll through social media, to stream our favorite shows. This 2015 study shows that our pre-bedtime electronics habitthrows off bio clocks, inhibits melatonin production, stimulates alertness at night and decreases alertness in the morning. A 2018 study involving electronic tablets found that evening use without protection against blue lightled to suppressed melatonin, later bedtimes, less evening sleepiness, longer times to fall asleep, and less alertness the next morning.
#5: Choose glasses with amber lenses—and these other features
Let’s get into the how-to of selecting a pair of blue light blocking glasses. There are lots of them on the market. That’s a sign of just how critical a health and sleep issue blue light exposure has become. But it also makes selecting the right pair of blue light blockers confusing.
First: Avoid glasses with clear lenses.Instead, make sure your blue light blocking glasses have amber lenses.
Why? When light passes through a colored filter (in this case, the eyeglass lens) the filter allows light wavelengths of its own and similar colors to pass through—while absorbing the light of other colors. Amber lenses absorb the short-wavelength blue light that’s highly concentrated in artificial and digital light sources, preventing it from being absorbed by the eye. At the same time, these colored lenses allow longer-wavelength orange and red light wavelengths to pass through. As studies have demonstrated, these long light wavelengthshave the least impact on sleep and bio rhythms.Clear lenses can’t sufficiently filter out blue light, to avoid problems with sleep and alterations to circadian rhythms.
Studies show that amber lenses are effective at preventing blue light from reaching the eye. Wearing amber lenses—and especially doing so consistently at night—can improve sleep quality, correct disruptions to circadian rhythms, and increase overall sleep amounts. Amber lenses also can reduce symptoms of insomnia—trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, waking very early, and feeling un-refreshed by a night of rest.
Here’s another important thing to know: For blue-light blocking glasses to work effectively to help your sleep, they need to block virtually all of the blue light coming your way. Blue light blocking glasses that claim to block 50 or 60 or even 80 percent of blue light do not go far enough in giving you the protection you need for your nightly rest and circadian rhythm health.
My Sleep Doctor blue light blocking glasses, I’m proud to say, filter out 99-100% of blue light—more than any other computer reading glasses available. That’s a result we worked hard to get through rigorous research, development, and laboratory testing.Our glasses employ a patented, rigorously tested amber lens that provides a truly comprehensive shield against blue light.
Here’s what else to look for in blue light blocking glasses:
They’re made in consultation with sleep experts.Before you buy, make sure your blue light blocking glasses have been developed with the help of scientific experts with specific expertise in sleep, and that the product is rigorously tested in laboratory. Look for specific, laboratory-backed results about exactly how much blue light the eyeglasses block.
They block UV-A and UV-B light.Blue light is harmful to our sleep and may also hurt our eyes themselves. UV rays are also harmful to our eyes and to vision. Greater exposure to UV-A and UV-B rays is linked to higher risks for cataracts and macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness. Look for blue-light blockers that filter out both blue light and harmful UV rays.
They’reanti-glareand anti-reflective. These features help ease eye strain that comes from logging so much time in front of computers and other screens. Combined with the filtering of blue light and other high energy visible light wavelengths, anti-glare and anti-reflective glasses can reduce a great deal of the strain and over-stimulation that comes from our light-rich environments.
They’re comfortable. It’s worth spending more for well-made frames that feel good and easy to wear.
They come with a generous warranty. You’re going to use these glasses A LOT. There’s a good chance at some point they’ll get stepped on, dropped, smashed, or scratched. Before you buy, make sure they come with a warranty that replaces them for a lifetime of use.
All the features I’ve highlighted above, from research and development, to medical sleep expertise, to the quality of materials and design, come at a cost. There’s no magic at work here: all that expertise, craftsmanship, and testing has to show up in the consumer price. If the price doesn’t reflect these critical contributions, then it’s likely they weren’t a part of the process.
For a pair of well designed, rigorously tested, high-quality blue light blocking glasses, expect to pay somewhere in the range of $75-$125. Remember, if you choose a pair that come with a lifetime warranty, you’ll only pay this price once.
MySleep Doctor Luminere Blue Light Blocking glassestick all the boxes, from specially coated amber lenses to a lifetime warranty and a price just under $100 (for two pairof glasses).
Whatever glasses you choose, it’s worth making the investment now in a high-quality pair of blue light blockers. That’s taking a big, important step in managing your daily light consumption.
Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM
The Sleep Doctor™