The Science Of Blue Light And Why You Maybe Can't Sleep At Night

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Smartphones, iPads, [insert electronic devices that you stare at here] — they're with us wherever we go. But what about when you head to bed and they go with you? Because let's be real: Netflix in bed happens. Texting does too. It's harmless, right?

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Narrator: It's 1:00 a.m. You should be sleeping but you're glued to your smartphone, catching up on the latest news, Facebook updates and tweets. It turns out that the smartphones and tablets that keep you connected and organized may also be keeping you awake.

[Rooster crowing]

See, our eyes perceive light in a range of wavelengths. Different wavelengths produce different color sensations and those sensations help tune your internal clock. Here's sleep researcher Brian Zoltowski.

Professor Brian Zoltowski: One of the best biological cues we have to what time of day it is, is light and it turns out that blue light, in particular, is very effective for basically predicting when morning is.

Narrator: And guess what puts out a ton of blue light?

Professor Zoltowski: Your iPad, your phone, your computer, emit large quantities of blue light.

Narrator: That means when you're under the covers, texting, tweeting or playing your latest game obsession, you're essentially telling your body, "Hey, it's morning!" What you want instead is more red light, which is abundant towards dusk.

Professor Zoltowski: And that'll help your body, basically, recognize that it is now evening, and I should be preparing for sleep.

Narrator: Your body gets that signal through Melanopsin. Melanopsin is a protein that undergoes a chemical change when exposed to light. This protein hangs out in cells called. . . Well, we'll let the sleep researcher explain.

Professor Zoltowski: They're referred to as Intrinsically Photosensitive Retinal Ganglion Cells. It's a mouthful. Basically, these cells are located deep behind the eyes, where you're going to be able to get and collect light through your normal process but it's just not affecting, basically, the same visual regions of the brain. Rather, they're more signaling through to the Supercreasmatic Nucleus, called the S.C.N., where our master clock is located.

Narrator: That master clock regulates circadian functions. Everything that tells your body when to wake up, and when to go to sleep. There's still a lot we don't know about sleep and how it happens. So, what can you do in the meantime, to help reset your clock?

Professor Zoltowski: If we basically just do what our bodies naturally want, eating at the right times of day, going to sleep when we're tired, you will find that you will get much more restful sleep.

Narrator: So, shut off the screens well before you hit the sack and don't follow this sleep researcher's example!

Professor Zoltowski: I am a horrible example. Despite knowing a lot about these processes, every night I still fight the urge to go to sleep. I am most productive, probably, starting at about 10 p.m. at night. So, most of my research and work, then, is being tried to be done at the time period I am supposed to go to sleep.

Narrator: Hey, instead of hitting that snooze button, why not hit the "Subscribe" button, and get more chemistry fun and facts from Reactions? Sleep well, Internet.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

Wow, I'm so guilty of doing this, but I still found it interesting. It makes a lot of sense too. The video comes from the American Chemical Society, and I found it on the YouTube channel they produce called Reactions. Thumbnail image by m01229, used under Creative Commons license.

Jun 06, 2014

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