Sleep Hygiene

The Fibromyalgia Sleep Chronicles #3 – The effect of blue light on sleep

Good morning! How did you sleep last night? Was it long and restful, or frustratingly disturbed? This series of posts is looking at how we can make our sleeping habits healthier and more beneficial, and I hope that what I have learnt throughout my journey to better sleep will help others.

I started off learning more about sleep before I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. Leading up to diagnosis I found myself in a cycle of going to bed and then either not falling to sleep or not staying asleep and this of course meant that my days were littered with yawns, pain and forgetfulness because I was so tired.

However, there are many reasons for somebody suffering a sleep disturbance, whether it be chronic or temporary, and it can be easy to just accept it and never do anything about it. It doesn’t have to be this way. That being said, I don’t have the secrets to solving everyones sleep problems, but following the advice I sought in the posts I am sharing along with a few of my own ideas, has led to me sleeping infinitely better than I was 6 months ago. Having good sleep hygiene also isn’t a quick fix, all of this advice would need to be taken on board and practised as part of a permanent lifestyle change and not just for a few days and then giving up.

I have also decided to break down the posts to get into the nitty gritty of these sleep changing habits, in order for you to have some time practising them before moving onto the next step. I also like to fully understand the reason for trying something before I embark on a lifestyle change, something that in healthcare we call an informed decision. It helps us to feel more in control and that increase our sense of wellbeing. It can be all too easy to look at the end goal and want to make all the necessary changes at once without fully understanding them, but this can often be overwhelming and lead to somebody giving up before they have even begun to see any benefit.

The effect of blue light on sleep

For this post we are looking at how to be kinder to our body clock in order to make our bodies actually want to sleep and the effect blue light can have on our circadian rhythms. It helps if you read my previous post about circadian rhythms before reading this one, and that you get your bedroom sleep friendly.

What do I mean by being kind to your body clock? Well, your body clock and circadian rhythms are responsible for making sure you fall to sleep, stay asleep, and wake up refreshed. If you body clock is out of rhythm, chances are, you are struggling with one or more of these things, but there are some gentle and effective ways to help reset your rhythm, and using blue light to our advantage.

We are especially sensitive to a wavelength of light known as blue light, which you may associate with the bad reputation of screens and mobile devices have when it comes to getting a good nights sleep. You’ve probably been told to avoid blue light if you want to sleep better, and this is partly true, because as we have already said, blue light suppresses melatonin which is responsible for making us sleepy. However, please do not think that blue light is all bad, it is simply about the timing of this light.

The good news

If you are somebody who is waking up unrefreshed, and really struggles to get yourself going in the morning then blue light is going to be your biggest ally. By using daylight, which is rich in blue light, to kickstart your day you are suppressing melatonin production, and melatonin is your sleepy hormone. So it figures that by suppressing melatonin you are automatically going to be less sleepy. Daylight is full of blue light, and in the morning when you want to wake up this is good! So instead of pressing that snooze button, get up, open the curtains and let the light flood over you. I guarantee you will start your day feeling better. I also find it useful to step outside into the light and the coolness of the morning air also helps me become more alert and ready to tackle the day.


Now, it is all very well saying this in May when the mornings are light in the northern hemisphere and opening the curtains is all that is needed, but what about those long dark winter months, when the most daylight we see maybe from across the workplace as we peer out to see what the weather is like? Then it isn’t so easy but there is something that can help.

Daylight lamps, such as a Lumie, are probably the best way forward if your problem is waking up in the morning. These ‘lights’ gradually take your bedroom from darkness to as close to daylight that is possible with an electronic device, and best of all it happens while you are sleeping. This gradual move from darkness to light begins the melatonin suppression before you even get up and this may help you to feel more refreshed when the alarm finally goes off. Or you may even find that it works so effectively that you don’t even need an alarm! Imagine that! Daylight lamps can also be useful for the mid afternoon slump if you aren’t able to take yourself outside for a walk.

The bad news

So we have determined that daylight and blue light is good for helping you wake up, but by now you should have guessed that it isn’t so good for the other end of the day when you want to fall to sleep. The major offenders for preventing healthy sleep patterns are mobile devices and any screens, like computer and televisions. The longer in the evening that we use these devices, the longer it will take for our bodies to begin secreting enough melatonin to get us to fall to sleep. I find for me that I need to to be away from blue light for a good 90 minutes before I begin to feel sleepy enough to fall asleep. So if I don’t stop using my phone until 10pm, I’m looking at it being at least 1130pm before I’m ready to sleep. The less I use blue light in the evenings, the sooner I am ready to sleep because my body clock is recognising that it is the evening and therefore time to rest.

I do realise that it can be very difficult to drag yourself away from mobile devices in the evening, and for many of us it forms part of our social habits and entertainment. I recommend avoiding them if you can as it is not only the blue light but also the effect it can have on stress levels and brain activity before we sleep. An example of this may be that we read some distressing news before going to sleep and this then plays on our minds and stops us from being able to switch off. But if you simply can’t drag yourself away then a compromise would be using the nighttime option on your phone. I use an iPhone and the nighttime option can be set to the same each day. This option turns the light on the screen from blue to varying degrees of red. Pair this up with turning the brightness down to its lowest setting and you will still be helping your melatonin production somewhat. Even though I don’t really use my phone before going to bed I do still use this setting from 2030 each evening, until 0730 each morning as this reminds me of the time and to start thinking about moving away, as well as reminding me not prioritise engaging with things I can’t control too early in the morning which would get my day off to a stressful start.

It isn’t just phones and television that are responsible for emitting blue light. Most ceiling lights and even table lamps in our homes also let off blue light, so if your house is lit up like Blackpool until you go to bed, then chances are you may also find it difficult to sleep well. Luckily for me I adore candle light, whether it be winter or summer, and candle light emits amber light, which actually helps our body clocks do what they need to do to make us sleepy as there is no melatonin suppression. Another benefit is that we all look better in candlelight! So why not try lighting a few candles in the evening and have them dotted around your humble abode? You’ll also save money on electricity as well as sleeping better! I also make sure I have a large candle on the go as this follows me from room to room as I go about like some medieval peasant in the dark brushing my teeth and getting my things ready for the morning.

So there you have it, what do you think of blue light? Do you have any experience in how it can affect sleep and our mood? Will you be trying any of the techniques I’ve described? Please feel free to let me know in the comments below. I promise I am really friendly and won’t bite!

As ever you can always find me on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!

This post along with many others from fellow fibro bloggers can be found at the Fibro Blogger Directory.

Toodle pip and I hope you sleep well tonight!

 

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7 thoughts on “The Fibromyalgia Sleep Chronicles #3 – The effect of blue light on sleep

  1. Great post, Sarah! One thing you might try installing is F.lux– this computer application automatically reduces blue light on your computer as bedtime approaches. You can also purchase glasses that block blue light, though I find this option much less attractive.

    Coincidentally I’m building my own wake-up light, Lark, that works similar to the Lumie but can be be controlled via smartphone, support goals, and can emit both white light and blue light. You can also take it to work and use it to treat SAD during the day. Would this possibly be helpful to you?

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    1. Hi Daniel!

      Thank you so much for your kind comments. I haven’t had to try a daylight lamp yet as started doing this with the lighter mornings, but am certainly considering purchasing one when the autumn and winter arrives, particularly as I work in a hospital and don’t see the light of day in the winter months! Looking forward to seeing you progress with your lark (love the name by the way!)

      Sarah

      Like

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