Ben Franklin is credited with the quote, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”. Did Ben Franklin know something in the 18th century that we’re having to learn all over again? Another Primal Way?
I don’t know about the “wealthy” part, but health (physical and mental) is being directly linked by many researchers to the quantity and quality of our sleep. Adequate sleep is absolutely essential to restoring and maintaining our states of health. To the extent that we can stay healthy, we’ll spend fewer dollars on medical costs and maybe keep a little more wealth as well. Adequate sleep is an inexpensive solution to much of what ails us.
Modern lifestyles are damaging our ability to sleep. That isn’t to say that some people don’t have medical issues that interfere with their sleep and for them, good medical attention by their doctor is proper. Most of the rest of us, however, are sleep deprived for non-medical reasons that may have medical consequences.
Blue light exposure, after sunset, is one of the causes of many people’s sleep difficulties. Here’s why. Sleepiness is triggered, and resultant sleep is maintained, by the body’s natural release of melatonin from the pineal gland when daylight has faded. Blue light is a major facet of daylight and will shut off melatonin release. When blue light is removed and it is night, we become sleepy. When blue light returns at sunrise, we start to become more alert.
Now, however, blue light doesn’t go away at sunset. We maintain our exposure to blue light well into the evening with computers, phones, televisions and much of our lighting. Our exposure to blue light effectively shuts off our body’s natural, primal way of transitioning to sleep. Sleepiness may still come, eventually, from carbohydrate snacking or from pills, but it isn’t the sustained sleep the body needs for health.
Ideally, we will know these facts and adopt lifestyles that turn off the blue light sources when the sun goes down and we allow our bodies to enjoy the sleep it needs. To the extent we can do that, the healthier we will be.
Knowing that few of us will do the ideal thing, adopt the Primal Way, there are some things we can do to help mitigate the impact of blue light in our nighttime environment. Go yellow! Go red! There’s a reason why outdoor yellow lights don’t attract insects. Insects don’t see them. Apparently, neither does the pineal gland respond to yellow or red, like it does to blue.
Avoid looking at light at night, other than yellow or red. Use bulbs in your lamps at night that have a warm yellow hue. Don’t buy daylight or cool blue bulbs. If you use low level nightlights, pure yellow or red work well.
If you must use your computer at night, there are things you can do. Wear yellow, amber or red colored glasses. Even inexpensive yellow driving glasses will filter out enough blue light to help. There are also fairly expensive glasses promoted as “blueblockers” that will remove all of the blue from the light you see. Most computer monitors have buttons on them that can be used to change the color mix of the screen. You can reduce the blue. Your TV color mix can also be adjusted to filter out the blue.
Colored glasses are more convenient. With any approach, your nighttime environment will have a greenish yellow appearance and you’ll not enjoy the vibrant colors of your computers and televisions, but you will have gone back to an old path when sleep was recognized as the key to health and wisdom. Maybe wealth as well.
Come morning, go blue again. It will make you alert.