You have probably noticed that we put a lot of effort into explaining the damaging effects of artificial blue light. You probably don’t know, however, that blue light affects your performance in athletics and other physical activity. Over the years, we have spoken to many trainers, and the athletes they work with. One of the biggest things that impacts athletic performance is sleep. If you don’t know by now, we’re here to tell you: artificial blue light can hurt your sleep. Anyone looking to perform their best, athletically or otherwise, should pay close attention to the information that follows in this article.
Blue Light Basics
Blue light is everywhere. In its natural form, your body uses blue light from the sun to regulate your natural sleep and wake cycles, aka Circadian Rhythm. Blue light can enhance your alertness, improve your reaction time, boost your mood, and increase your feeling of wellbeing.
Visible light is a form of electromagnetic radiation that carries energy. The shorter the wavelength, the stronger the energy. Blue light has the shortest wavelength in the visible light spectrum, therefore, it carries the highest amount of energy. Overexposure to blue light can cause short-term and long-term damage to your eyes.
Shorter waves of light flicker more than longer waves, as you’ve probably seen in florescent bulbs. This flickering creates a glare that reduces visual contrast, and affects sharpness and clarity of images. Flickering and glaring are among the causes of eye strain, headaches, and physical and mental fatigue that follow extended time spent in front of screens. Even worse, we tend to spend long stretches of time in front of screens at night. Athletes, it turns out, are no different in this respect.
Blue Light and Your Brain
Our eyes’ natural filters that provide insufficient protection against blue light rays from the sun, let alone the higher intensity blue light from electronic devices. Such exposure triggers your brain to stop producing melatonin, your body’s natural chemical that promotes deep, restorative sleep.
When blue light (the only wavelength capable of passing directly through your cornea) a message goes to the brain. The message works like an alarm clock, or strong cup of coffee. Your brain believes, due to the artificial blue light, that the day has just begun. If we lived in the Stone Age, all of this would take place naturally. But we live in the Digital Age, and over 80% of us use an electronic device for an hour before bed.
What is the Effect?
You might be thinking, “So what? I do just fine – I stare at a screen all day and still get plenty of sleep!” Unfortunately, that’s not the case for most people. Sleep and restorative sleep are two very different things. Restorative sleep allows your body to repair and heal during the night. When coming from a digital device, blue light is 65% more intense than natural blue light. And while a rare few individuals may not necessarily feel the adverse effects, there is still a chemical reaction taking place that cannot be avoided. From an athletic trainer’s perspective, the effects you don’t feel come out in a poor performance the next day at practice.
Medical professionals from the Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel and Cyclotron Research Center, University of Liège, proved that evening exposure to blue light significantly impacted sleep quality. Remember, all electronic devices emit artificial blue light at a much higher intensity than what we see from the sun. This means any use of any device prior to bed can reduce the quality of sleep you get.
Is Sleep Such a Big Deal?
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recognize sleep’s importance. Sleep-deprived individuals suffer from a multitude of medical issues. But those who get quality sleep have healthier hearts, better hormonal balance, a stronger immune system, etc. Ultimately, though, it’s about performance and functioning at your best each day. Without the right amount of sleep, your body will not repair and you will suffer. Whether you’re an athlete or an accountant, sleep repairs the toll life takes.
Experts from Keio University School of Medicine and Tokyo Medical and Dental University investigated the effect of blocking blue light. Particularly, they measured how much the blocking of blue light near bedtime affected melatonin and sleep quality. The study showed that each of the 12 adults who participated had more melatonin and better sleep quality when they used a “blue-light shield.”
Only a few methods exist which effectively block blue light without causing excessive difficulty functionally. Amber tinted lenses on eyeglasses have proven extremely effective and practical. Professors from the University of Toledo did a random study on 20 adults in two groups. One group wore amber lensed glasses blocking blue light, the other wore yellow lensed glasses only blocking ultraviolet light. At the end of their study, they found that the group that wore amber lensed glasses not only experienced significant improvements in how they slept but also in their mood.
The science on blue light only continues to confirm the necessity of caution. Taking measures to protect yourself, improve your sleep, and boost your overall performance should be a no brainer. Elite athletes, like Stepfán Taylor, take to the heart the lessons their trainers try to get across about sleep and performance. Athletes have a vested interest in peak performance, but everyone needs sleep. Everyone should want to perform their best. An important part of accomplishing that almost universal goal is properly protecting your eyes.
NFL running back Stepfán Taylor wearing Haus. Photo courtesy of Stepfán Taylor.