BLUE LIGHT GOOD; BLUE LIGHT BAD
and all the tips you need for a good night’s sleep
(including petitioning your local government)
La Casa now has a large Blue Light, which we have used, quite effectively, on many of our clients for the traditional use of it—to clear up acne. One of our clients used it for a stress-induced acne breakout, but she could only come in after closing time—at 9pm. She was so desperate, we decided to let her come in at that time. She called the next day, and complained that she was up practically all night—hardly any sleep. She felt it was related to the Blue Light. I decided to investigate to see if her intuition could have been right. As it turns out, Blue Light is quite extraordinary, in several ways that I was unaware of. But it can be easily misused, as happened with this.
A Blue Light treatment at La Casa.
It was discovered in 2001 that the light receptor in the retina that processes Blue Light is different than for all other light. Unlike all other light waves, the light/dark sensors in your brain for Blue Light do not connect with your vision center. Rather, Blue Light connects to our biological clocks, and this internal time mechanism resets itself every day. When we are in sync with the rhythm of the earth, exposure to the specific wavelength of Blue Light retunes the body to a natural circadian rhythm. This rhythm includes the sleep/wake cycles. Blue Light tells us when the day is beginning. This attribute gives it the unique ability to wake up your whole body, and it can do this even when your eyelids are closed (presumably sleeping). (Your eyelid is moderately transparent: close your eyes and look at the light in the room where you’re sitting—you can tell when you’re looking toward, or away from that light).
But even more interesting (for me, as a psychoanalyst, as well as a holistic healing practitioner) than the discovery of the connection between Blue Light and the circadian rhythm is research showing that it also affects the emotional center of the brain. Thus, we now refer to our Blue Light also as the “Happy Light.” Exposure to it has been suggested as an effective therapy for depression. One study from researchers of the Light Research Program at Thomas Jefferson University (Philadelphia) found that the Blue/Happy Light strengthens and stimulates connections between areas of the brain that process emotion and language. The researchers concluded that Blue/Happy Light can help people to better handle emotional challenges and regulate moods, and that it is even more effective than the bright white light often used in light boxes to treat SAD and other forms of depression.
Blue/Happy Light is prevalent in outdoor light. Your body absorbs greater amounts of it in the summer, and less in the winter. Because of this, the researchers of the study suggested that exposure to Blue/Happy Light may help boost mood and productivity year-round, but is most effective during the winter.
Blue/Happy Light is a part of the UV light spectrum, and acts as a potent disinfectant of your environment. (Its disinfectant quality is why it cures acne.) Research has found UV light can reduce the spread of tuberculosis in hospital wards and waiting rooms by 70 percent, and kills 90 percent of drug-resistant bacteria in hospital rooms. Also, UV light can kill drug-resistant strains of S. aureus and E. faecalis in as little as 5 seconds. UV light can even be used to disinfect water without the addition of other harsh chemicals. La Casa, since our inception, has been using UV light, coupled with ozone, as the method we use to disinfect and cleanse the water in our Floatation chamber.
We Need Light; But We also Need Dark
Light is essential to the process of setting circadian rhythm. But so is darkness. Our biological clock can only reset after it has had a surfeit of darkness. Many people with depression, and specifically those who suffer from bi-polar disorder, have lost their connection with their body’s natural circadian rhythm.
Light intensity is as important as color. It is measured in lux units. Outdoor lux units will be generally around 100,000 at noon. Indoors, the typical average is somewhere between 100 to 2,000 lux units. Obviously, this is a large gap that between the two—the natural light you are exposed to outside, and the synthetic light you are exposed to inside. When you spend most of your day indoors, you essentially enter a state of “light deficiency.”
The Dark Side to Blue Light
But, as our trusty client discovered in her Sleepless in Brooklyn night, there is a dark side to Blue Light—exposure to it at the wrong time.
Prior to light bulbs, people slept an average of 10 hours a night. Today, most of us get less than seven hours of sleep. The reason has to do with artificial light (thank you very much, Mr. Edison). And, it is mostly the Blue Light that is the culprit. Any time we expose our bodies to Blue Light at night, we are tricking our brains into thinking it is daytime.
Blue Light is emitted from many of the electronic and digital devices that we depend so heavily on: TV screens, computers (especially laptops), cell phones and reading devices (Kindle and Nook). The problem comes in when we use them before bed. Blue Light specifically interferes with the production of melatonin, the hormone that helps (among other of its beneficial effects) to put us to sleep.
The pineal gland produces melatonin, and the amount produced is affected by the contrast of bright light exposure during the day and complete darkness at night. If you’re in darkness all day long, your body can’t make the necessary distinction between day and night; if you’re in artificial light long into the night, similarly, your body can’t make the distinction. In both cases, melatonin production will be out of balance.
One study of e-readers, published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, showed that the e-readers had significantly less rapid eye movement (REM) during sleep; and even if they had eight hours of sleep, it took longer for them to fully wake up the next day and attain their normal level of alertness.
Another study compared melatonin levels in individuals exposed to standard room light (<200 lux) vs. dim light (<3 lux). Exposure to room light before bedtime shortened the time of elevated melatonin levels by about 90 minutes. This hour and a half of decreased melatonin means that it could take an extra hour and a half of lying in bed before you reach snooze-land.
Chronic suppression of melatonin not only leads to sleep deficiency, but is also linked to a myriad of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, as well as breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers.
The following is an excerpt from the Melatonin Summary from the National Cancer Institute:
“At pharmacological concentrations, melatonin suppresses cancer cell growth and multiplication. At physiological and pharmacological concentrations, melatonin acts as a differentiating agent in some cancer cells and lowers their invasive and metastatic status by altering adhesionmolecules and maintaining gapjunction intercellular communication. In other cancer cell types, melatonin, alone or with other agents, induces programmed cell death.”
Another important study documents the effects of external nighttime light on sleep quantity and quality. Researchers at Stanford University conducted extensive interviews over an eight-year period with 16,000 men and women. Questions were asked about sleep, eating and stress. Findings were mapped against geographic satellite data showing the intensity of nighttime light near each participant’s home. The effects of nighttime radiance on sleep were striking. Those with the most artificial night lighting:
-went to sleep later and woke up later
-were more tired during the day
-were more likely to be unhappy with the quality of their sleep
-were more irritable and less functional during the day
Blue Light in Cities
In spite of these findings, new super-bright light-emitting diode (LED) street lamps either have been or will be installed in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Chicago, New York City, and many other municipalities throughout the country. These new lights sometimes make residents feel safer, but the jury is still out on whether they actually reduce crime or help to prevent car crashes. They do use less energy, a definite benefit for the environment. But, there is a cost: they also emit more Blue Light that then interferes with natural melatonin production and good sleep.
Blue Light streetlamps in Glasgow, Scotland’s city center.
On June 14, at the annual meeting in Chicago, the American Medical Association adopted an official policy statement about street lighting: cool it and dim it. The AMA’s statement recommends that outdoor lighting at night, particularly street lighting, should have a Color Temperature of no greater than 3000 Kelvin. Color Temperature is a measure of the spectral content of light—that is, how much blue, green, yellow and red there is in it. A higher CT rating generally means greater blue content, and the whiter the light appears.
You can see what Harvard Medical School has to say about blue street lights, by clicking HERE.
Various petitions have been passed around in US cities, as well as other countries, employing local governments to change their policies and plans about blue street lights. You can see NYC’s petition to Mayor de Blasio by clicking HERE.
What to Do to Protect Yourself:
It is most useful to get at least 10 to 15 minutes of first-morning light when Blue Light is strongest. This light exposure sends a strong message to your internal clock that day has arrived. Later in the day, around noon, another dose of at least 30 minutes’ worth of sunlight is useful (lunch outside?).
General Tips for Good Sleep:
I find that I sleep infinitely better when my bedroom is on the cold side. I am not alone in this. Studies have shown that the temperature most conducive for sleep is between 60 and 68 degrees.
I always—both in the summer and the dead of winter—sleep with my window open as well as with a fan blowing on my face. It is my head that most of all wants to be cool. When it is winter, and my bedroom gets quite cold, my body stays warm covered with blankets, but my head stays cool and comfortable. The fan has the additional advantage of being a white noise machine. This is useful, especially in New York. But even in my country house, the sounds of nature (birds, geese, crickets) can be quite loud and distracting, and interfere with sleep.
Don’t have any outdoor lighting that shines near your bedroom window. Globe lights shine in all directions, and should be avoided.
Black-out shades will cut out most of the light. The only problem I’ve had with these is the crack where the shade meets the window, and a sliver of light shines through from outside if there are near-by lights. It’s better to have the shades installed in such a way that they overlap the wall half an inch or so, rather than their being situated inside the window opening. To get really creative, you can get a programmable timer that will lift them early in the morning. Wear an eye mask. This will help, but, again, any light coming in that hits any part of your body interferes with melatonin production. One study found that aiming a green light behind the knees of sleepers diminished melatonin.
Dim all lights after sunset with a low-wattage bulb with yellow, orange or red light. Use amber colored glasses that block blue light (available on Amazon) whenever you use digital equipment for two hours before bedtime. Consumer Reports tested three different kinds of glasses: the Uvex Skyper eyewear cut out almost all blue light ($8); gaming glasses by Gunnar Intercept were only able to cut blue light absorption by half ($53); Spektrum glasses blocked only a third of blue wavelengths ($40).
Me, in my amber glasses.
Turn off all electronic screens 30 minutes to an hour before going to bed.
Keep light-emitting devices out of the bedroom entirely.
Lower room-darkening shades or curtains in the bedrooms.
Make sure there is nothing plugged into the wall by your head. Not only will it affect your over-all health, it will keep you awake. I have nothing plugged it AT ALL in my bedroom when I go to sleep. I have an extension cord that is plugged into the wall outside my bedroom, and all electronic devices are plugged into that cord. My lamp, my fan—all things that are INSIDE my bedroom—are plugged into an outlet OUTSIDE my bedroom. I’ve tested my bedroom with a gauss meter—and the difference is significant. And I FELT the difference. I was unable to sleep in my country home until I took these steps. My bed, which has outlets both at the head and the side, was literally a HOT-BED electromagnetically when I had my fan and lamp plugged inside the room.
Turn off wi-fi. You’ll be asleep. You won’t be looking at emails or doing any internet surfing while you’re asleep. Admittedly, it’s hard to live without wi-fi. And I don’t. It’s just too convenient to be able to use my computer anywhere in my home. But there is a price to pay. I know people who have such extreme electromagnetic (EMF—electromagnetic field) sensitivity that they react immediately to wi-fi, or even cell phones in their homes. There is a vast literature on electromagnetic sensitivity.
Researchers have found a link between multiple chemical sensitivities and hypersensitivity to EMFs. Both conditions have, not only low melatonin levels, but also elevated histamines, free radical damage, stress protein release, and disruption of the blood-brain barrier. These unfortunate souls have had to resort back to the dinosaur age of cable connection.
Use a blue light screen filter.
Use an anti-blue light app. One of the most popular is called f.lux.
Back off. Keep the screen at least 14 inches from your face.
I find that most hotels don’t have drapes that completely close. I always travel with an eye mask.
All hotels have clocks next to the bed, and they have the time in red light usually. I simply unplug the clock. (I also unplug any electronic devices that are plugged in under or next to the headboard so I don’t expose my brain to electromagnetic pollution. I have to be a bit of a detective sometimes to uncover where things are plugged in—even resorting to moving the bed away from the wall to see if there are plugs behind my head.)
I also find that often there are blinking red or green lights in hotel rooms up by the ceiling. Again, I go to great lengths to cover them, finding cloths (like my jackets) that will hide the lights.
I do not take these steps to make the room completely dark because I am worried about the effect on my body. I FEEL the effect on my body. I can’t get to sleep if I do not take these remedial steps.
If AlI That Fails, How Else to Get a Good Night’s Sleep:
If after all these remedial steps are taken, and you still have trouble sleeping, you might try some of the other solutions.
I have personally used homeopathic remedies to help me sleep. My sleep ability fell completely apart when I was going through menopause. Two of these remedies saved me: I was averaging two hours a night until I discovered them.
Coffea cruda; Yes, just as you would think from its name, it is the frequency of coffee.
When my insomnia developed, I felt like my brain had lost the switch that turned it off. My mind just wouldn’t shut down, wouldn’t shut up. This remedy is especially useful when we need help calming an overactive mind.
Muriatic acid is a special homeopathic preparation of hydrochloric acid. It helps when we’re tired but can’t get to sleep.
Arsenicum album can relax us when we’re anxious or restless.
Lycopodium clavatum is recommended when we wake frequently from hunger.
Nux vomica is the other remedy I used. It is specifically for those who fall asleep at first—but then wake up around 3 am (yes, the remedy is that specific about the wake-up time, and 3 am was precisely the time I would wake up), and can’t get back to sleep.
There is one other sleep solution I like a lot. I was introduced to it by Issac Eliaz, MD, who is known for his research into Modified Citrus Pectin. Recently, he has researched an herb that has used for centuries in ancient China: Honokiol, which is extracted from Magnolia bark. Honokiol is known to support a healthy mood, relaxation, and restful sleep. One pre-clinical study found that it extends non-REM sleep. Honokiol is also a powerful antioxidant, an anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety agent; it functions as a neurological protector, and research shows it to be a remarkable anti-cancer compound, as well.
Before taking any of these remedies, consult a homeopathic practitioner or holistic MD to guide you. Homeopathic remedies don’t work unless you have the right dosage, and that need to be evaluated by a practitioner.