It’s evening, and after a long day you finally have a little bit of time before bed to answer those emails, watch a short program, or buy that book on Amazon you’ve been meaning to order. Or maybe you need to stay up just to get work done. When you’re finished, you get into bed, exhausted, and… spend an hour staring at the ceiling.
You were so tired, are so tired, yet sleep eludes you, the caregiver, at the moment when you need it most. Unfortunately, you may be experiencing the blue light blues.
The problem is that those illuminated screens we all tend to look at on computers, TVs, tablets and smartphones emit more light on the blue end of the light spectrum than does natural light, or most of the other types of lighting in our homes. And research shows that, while all types of light inhibit the secretion of melatonin, a hormone which helps us fall asleep, exposure to blue light has a particularly strong effect. Without melatonin flowing through our system, our brain decides that it’s the middle of the day and time to stay awake, even when our body and mind are very much in need of rest.
This is the reason why you may have heard, from me or countless other sources, that it’s a good idea to avoid screens during the two hours before bedtime. This is true for you and for anyone for whom you’re caregiving.
But what if that’s simply not possible, given your schedule or responsibilities?
- Firstly, do try to limit your exposure as much as you can during those evening hours, especially during the time right before bed.
- If you really can’t avoid screens, especially if you need to use something with an illuminated screen such as a video monitor in your role as caregiver, try using glasses or goggles specifically designed to block blue light. True blue-blocking glasses can be pricey, around 80 dollars, but you might consider that a worthwhile investment in exchange for some much-needed sleep. A less expensive alternative are orange tinted glasses, which also reduce blue light but affect other colors as well, so they may not be a great choice for watching a movie. On the other hand, they could do the trick if you’re mainly writing texts, emails (or, just as an example, writing an article for a website at 9:00 pm).
- Avoid unnecessary light sources, such as the LED displays gracing nearly all room electronics (humidifiers, for example) by removing the display out of your direct line of site, or covering them with a piece of tape or paper. Every little bit counts, especially if you find your eyes open in the middle of the night.
- If you need to use night lights for safety purposes or in order to provide care during the night, try using red nightlights. Red light has the least melatonin-suppressing effect.
- Not all blue light is bad. Looking at illuminated screens during the day (as well as getting plenty of exposure to natural light in general) can actually help increase energy and alertness during the day and may make it easier to fall asleep later. Of course that’s assuming the blue light doesn’t stick around during the night.
- Check out f.lux, a free computer app which adjusts the lighting on your computer and other devices based on the time of day, so that the screen emits more blue light earlier in the day, then shifts to more orange and red in the evening.
As often happens, new technology has been created to help correct a problem caused by another technology (screens and, originally, electric power itself). Take advantage of anti-blue-light gadgetry as much as you can and, when possible, try to just power down and give your mind and brain a break.