For many people, falling asleep isn’t an easy task. There are many factors that play into a person’s inability to drift off into dreamland, one of which is the color of the light they’re exposed to in the evening. In this article, we’re going to explore the best (and worst) color light for sleep. We’ll also provide tips for protecting yourself from sleep-disrupting light and using sleep-inducing light to your advantage. Let’s get started!
How can light affect sleep?
Exposure to light of any color has an effect on your natural sleep-and-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm. Depending on its color, light can either increase the secretion of melatonin—an essential hormone that promotes sleep—or decrease it.
What color light helps you sleep?
You might be surprised to learn that red is the color of light that is best for sleep. Early research suggests that red, or colors close to red on the light spectrum, might stimulate melatonin production.
One small 2012 study examined the effect of 30 minutes of nighttime red light therapy in a group of 20 female basketball players. The researchers found that after two weeks, participants who received the red light therapy experienced significantly improved sleep quality and melatonin levels compared to participants who weren’t exposed to any light.
In another 2017 study on mice, it was found that red light at an intensity of 10 lux* or higher had induced sleep.
*one lux = one lumen evenly distributed over an area of one square meter. It is used as a measure of the intensity of light hitting or passing through a surface.
The effect of personal color preference
Interestingly, an individual’s personal preference might also play a role in determining which color light is best for sleep. In a 2017 study, participants were exposed to white light, a random color light, their preferred color light, or complete darkness. The results showed that participants exposed to their preferred color fell asleep significantly quicker than the other groups.
What is the worst color light for sleep?
You’ve probably heard that it’s not good to spend time looking at your cell phone screen before bed. That’s because it gives off blue light which can suppress melatonin production and negatively impact your sleep quality.
Blue light is a big part of today’s world. It’s widely used in modern screen technology to illuminate our phones, laptops, computer screens, TVs, and homes. While people take in a large amount of blue light every day, many do not know that this can have negative health effects including eye strain, headaches, and disruptions in your body’s sleep cycle.
In one study, Harvard researchers compared the effects of 6.5 hours of blue light exposure to 6.5 hours green light exposure. The blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much.
In another study, researchers at the University of Toronto compared the melatonin levels of people exposed to bright indoor light who were wearing blue light blocking goggles to people exposed to regular dim light without wearing goggles. Results showed that the melatonin levels were about the same in the two groups, strengthening their hypothesis that blue light is a potent suppressor of melatonin.
Tips for protecting yourself from harmful light before bedtime
Now that we know which color lights are best and worst for sleep, how can you use this knowledge to your advantage? Here are some tips you can apply to get the sound sleep you need and deserve.
Cut back on screen time before bedtime
The simplest way to lower your exposure to sleep-disrupting blue light is to turn off your digital devices well before bed, ideally one to two hours beforehand. Blue light sends a signal to your brain to produce less melatonin which causes you to feel alert—exactly what you don’t want when you’re trying to fall asleep. Sources of blue light include TVs, smartphones, tablets, gaming systems, fluorescent light bulbs, LED bulbs, and computer monitors.
Wear blue light blocking glasses
To counter the harmful effects of blue light, wear blue light blocking glasses while using your digital devices, especially at night. These glasses are specifically designed to filter out the blue-violet rays that are emitted from digital screens.
Wear sleep glasses in the evening
If you want to take your nighttime blue light protection up another notch, consider wearing sleep glasses. Sleep glasses are a type of blue light blocking glasses, but their level of protection is higher than regular blue light blockers. For example, a typical blue light lens might have a blue light filter of anywhere from 6 to 65, whereas a sleep lens can have a blue light filter as high as 98.
The main goal with blue light blocking glasses is to provide protection without altering the wearer’s perception. Sleep glasses, on the other hand, aim to block out as much blue light as possible. These lenses block out blue light, but they also dim light generally, creating a more sleep-friendly environment for the wearer.
Install blue light filtering apps on your devices
There are free apps you can download onto your smartphone, tablet, and computer designed to reduce your blue light exposure. They give your screens a yellow-orange color and reduce your exposure to blue light. A couple of examples of free apps you can download are Twilight (Android) and Flux (iOS, Mac).
Consider red light therapy
Some researchers theorize that exposing yourself to red light wave lengths can induce melatonin production and, consequently, help with sleep. If you want to try red light therapy for better sleep, choose products that emit red light wavelengths instead of bulbs that are simply tinted red. While red-tinted bulbs might be soothing, they don’t actually produce red light wavelengths, which is what has the positive effect on sleep.
Use a red light nightlight
Rather than turning lights on in the middle of the night to use the bathroom or using a night light that emits white light, consider illuminating your hallway or bathroom with a nightlight that emits red light. This will prevent your sleep cycle from being interrupted.
Now that you’re aware of how different colored lights affect your sleep, help yourself sleep better by protecting your eyes from blue light at night and using red light before bed or as a nightlight. By applying the simple tips in this article, you’ll be much more likely to get restorative sleep that allows you to live your best, healthiest life.