Last week on the blog we had a wonderfully informative post by Nutritional Therapist Grace Kingswell, all about red light and its therapeutic benefits. I don’t know about you but it got me thinking that I needed to delve further into the blue light question and really look at the ways in which I can protect myself and my family from the toxic lighting crisis. I certainly do find that my sleep is far worse if I’ve been up late answering emails or on my phone, as I’m sure many of us do, but armed with the facts it’s far more likely that we’ll make lasting changes. So here’s what I’ve learnt so far…
What is blue light and why is it an issue?
As with so many things in the health and wellness space, we tend to come down really hard on a single idea and really go ‘all in’ in our condemnation of it. To begin with I fell into this trap with blue light too thinking that all blue light was bad, but it’s not.
Blue light is part of the visible light spectrum along with red, yellow, pink, green, orange and purple. Put simply, when it’s day time and the sun is shining (in fact, even if it’s cloudy), we get all of these colours in our environment making up the full light spectrum. At different times of day, however, we see more of one colour than another. Mornings and evenings are typically the pinks and reds - the gorgeous sunrise and sunset colours, and during the day time we get the (almost white) bright blue light mixed in with green.
The thing is, however, at no point in this natural visible light spectrum do we get blue light by itself. Bright blue, daytime light is always balanced by the reds and purples even if we can’t actually see them.
So, blue light is not actually a problem in itself, it’s what we’ve done with it as human’s that causes an issue…
Instead of respecting that nature and evolution obviously has a reason for maintaining this complete visible light spectrum, we’ve isolated just the blue fraction of light and put it by itself in our bright overhead LED lights, our phone screens, our laptops and TVs, our kindles and tablets and the list just goes on really. The reason this is a problem for our health is because it’s confusing our body’s natural rhythms and where it takes its information from.
You see, light is the cue that our bodies use to initiate hormonal cascades within the body, it’s also linked to inflammation levels and our sleep wake cycle too (this much we know, it’s nearly impossible to fall asleep in a brightly lit room!) Without the correct signalling to the brain, which often comes in via the eye, we’re unable to function optimally and a lot of this comes down to our mitochondria.
The mighty mitochondria
Inside every one of our cells we have mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell that works tirelessly to create cellular energy which then powers pretty much every process in our body. Everything needs to be in sync within our bodies to work optimally, nothing is left to chance in human biology! Our mitochondria work off one of these internal rhythms, a circadian rhythm, and they get confused when the light signals are all wrong - they are distributed throughout the body, in every cell, but we have the majority of them in the retina of the eye - directly exposed to light!
Humans have evolved in synergy with nature, and it’s this factor that should dictate just how careful we need to be with our light environments. In nature there is zero blue light at night time. As blue light is the stimulus to wake up and for our bodies to carry out all the daytime processes that they do when they get this blue light signal, seeing too much blue after the sun has gone down is a recipe for cellular disaster.
Similarly, a lot of our detoxification and ‘clean up’ happens at night, in the absence of blue light, so again too much of it at the wrong time means that our endogenous defence systems are weakened - immune system, detox potential, redox and rest.
So what are the take aways?
- Firstly, that blue light is not inherently bad - it’s just bad when we get too much of it at the wrong time of day. We need blue light during the daylight hours, so make sure you get outside first thing in the morning to start the melatonin production.
- Melatonin, our sleepy hormone, is made in the morning when we see the morning light, stored throughout the day, then released at night time once the sun has gone down. Melatonin is also an incredibly powerful antioxidant that we need in good amounts to maintain optimum health. Our bodies won't release stored melatonin at night if there’s too much blue light!
- If you are under conditions of artificial blue light at night time then make sure you’re protecting your eyes with some quality blue blockers (not just the ones you’ve seen advertised on instagram!) Head to redlightrising.com and use code GKNUTRITION for a discount on their premium blue blocking eyewear.
So, what do you think? Ready to dim the light and light some candles this evening? Me too!