PEORIA — The blue light blocking glasses you purchased to reduce eyestrain may also help you get to sleep faster.
Marketed primarily to prevent eye strain and headaches caused by the blue light coming off computers and other electronic devices, the glasses are being studied by sleep specialists who have long used light regulation as a way to control the production of melatonin, a chemical key to the onset of sleep.
“There are several small studies that hint at those blue blocking glasses being effective (at helping people get to sleep sooner), and the science behind them makes a lot of sense,” said Dr. Sarah Zallek, medical director of OSF HealthCare Illinois Neurological Institute Sleep Center.
Light affects the production of melatonin — bright light can suppress it, and dim light allows it to come on. Sleep specialists are now finding that the blue rays in light may play a key role.
“The blue light is the part of the light spectrum that seems to suppress melatonin the most,” said Zallek. “When the eyes get exposed to blue light, it delays the melatonin release.”
Because computer screens and cellphones emit blue light, it makes sense that using them before bedtime might suppress melatonin, said Zallek.
“If my bedtime is 10 p.m., and my melatonin normally comes on at about 10 p.m., but I’m surfing Facebook or reading on my device that emits a wide spectrum of light, including blue light, my melatonin might be delayed compared to my natural release of melatonin.”
Wearing blue light blocking glasses in the hours before bedtime might help if you are having trouble getting to sleep, said Zallek. Because the glasses are inexpensive and widely available, there’s no harm in trying it.
“It’s a great solution if you feel it helps you,” said Zallek.
The best choice, however, might be to stop using devices late in the evening, and don’t use them in bed at all.
“There are a lot of reasons not to use your device in bed besides the blue light. It’s very engaging,” said Zallek. “Treat your bed as a place for sleep or intimacy rather than anything else, including being on your devices. (If you regularly use your devices in bed) your brain might lose that beautiful association of bed and sleep, because once you get into bed, you might think, I’m going to check Facebook or whatever people do on the internet. If you can isolate your bed to do what it’s meant for, it’s much more likely that your brain will unconsciously know that that is what’s meant to happen when you are there.”
Every person has their own unique sleep biology. Zallek helps her patients understand their own sleep processes when they seek treatment for a variety of sleep issues.
“We all have a chronotype, a circadian rhythm style, which is either night owl, morning lark or a kind of neutral,” she explained. “Once you know your own circadian type, light can help manipulate that.”
Night owls who need to get up early for work should use dim light in the evening to help bring on melatonin earlier, then use bright lights in the morning to help them get going. Consistently using these techniques can help a person reset their circadian type. Blue light blocking glasses might be another tool to help people better manage their sleep.
Ultimately, better sleep is the result of lifestyle changes, rather than medicine, said Zallek.
“Medication is rarely needed, and if it is, only in the short term,” she said. “Once a person understands a little bit more about their sleep biology, they can do things to align with the biology. ... I call it the do-it-yourself insomnia guide. I teach people how to fix their sleep. It’s so doable, most people don’t need me.”
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.