Attack of the Smartphone: Blue Light Explained

By Audrey Daniels

WANT Contributor

Technology has become integrated into the average adolescent’s life and daily routine. We use it almost all the time; from checking Instagram in the car or on the bus, to browsing twitter over lunch. Could part of our routine be negatively impacting one of the most vital things to teen growth—sleep?

Light throws off our internal clock by suppressing our body’s output of Melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep and alertness when awake. Every person has an internal clock; a natural cycle of being awake and asleep. Melatonin begins production around mid to late afternoon and remains at high levels throughout the night until morning. One remedy is for Melatonin supplements to be taken. For example, if it’s nighttime and you just arrived in a different time zone, your internal clock says it’s 10 am, but it’s dark outside. You can take a melatonin supplement to tell your body it’s time to sleep. This is a common way to avoid jet lag.

Humans evolved waking up with the sun, hunting and gathering all day, and going to bed when night fell. Therefore, it is in our DNA to go to sleep when it’s dark outside. Electricity gave humans a way to stay up long after the sun did, and every teen has that ability in their pocket: an iPhone. When we use our iPhones, computers, or any other electronics before we go to bed, we expose our eyes to light. All light makes you more awake by telling your brain its daytime, but blue light does so more than others. According to one experiment at Harvard University, blue light affects your body twice as much as green light (shifting your internal clock 3 hours instead of 1.5). One of the main wavelengths that iPhones emit is blue.

When your internal clock gets offset by dampened melatonin levels, it gets harder and harder to fall asleep at normal times, and if you keep waking up early you get gradually more and more sleep deprived.

Lack of sleep can cause fatigue, not being able to focus, and mood swings, but it can also lead to more serious medical conditions if it is happening repeatedly over a period of time. This build-up in lack of sleep can make you more prone to diabetes, obesity, high blood sugar, and even heart disease. Sleep is when your body gets to rest, and if we deprive ourselves of that, it has lasting harmful effects.

So, what can you do? Most iPhones now have Night Mode, which removes most blue light from our screens, causing them to appear more yellow. Most Apple laptops have this feature now as well. For other computers, there are programs, like f.lux, which do the same thing. Harvard Health recommends that avoiding bright screens 2-3hours before bed can really make an impact, but if you use a blue-light reducing program, you can use your screens for longer!

Looking to become more of a morning person? Read about that here.

Photo Credit: Toshiyuki IMAI

Leave a Reply