Out of the blue?

Do you stay up late on social media with the niggling fear of missing out on the latest updates before you hit power-off?  

Although it might be tempting to say no, if the answer is, in fact, yes, research into the effects of blue light on circadian rhythms might be of interest to you, or more importantly, your health…  

Whilst in the science world, it has been long known that blue light has the power to reset many organisms’ circadian rhythms (sleep-wake cycles), it is only now that research has started to show worrying results for human participants.  

Blue light is a frequency emitted from sources such as our phones and LED bulbs. Whilst in the day-time, blue light wavelengths have been proven to be beneficial in boosting our attention, reaction times and mood, at night they can be disruptive to the brain, especially as we prepare for a good night’s rest.   

At night, exposure to blue light can desynchronise the human biological clock (average 24 and ¼ hours), causing us to feel less tired, and reducing the quality of our sleep. This is thought to be due to its ability to suppress the production of a hormone called melatonin, which regulates sleep and wakefulness. Although much research in this area is still in its preliminary stages, initial results have suggested that excessive exposure to blue light at night may contribute to the causation of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. A worrying predicament in our technology-driven society… 

 Prof Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer stated that whilst most people are now aware of the negative long-term health effects of threats such as a poor diet, there is a “horrifying lack of awareness” about the potential negative effects of blue light. The NHS has suggested that more research needs to be done in this field before guidelines can be established, as other factors of fast-paced modern life, such as stress, can also be to blame for poor quality sleep. 

The current NHS guidance suggests that if you are struggling to sleep, the following sleep hygiene recommendations such as “no caffeine 4 hours before bed” and “no drinking or smoking before bed” might help to improve your symptoms. But if these suggestions haven’t worked for you, then it might be worth putting away your phone 30 minutes earlier than usual before you hit lights-out.  

You might not catch the latest post you’ve been tagged in, but you might just be able to wake up refreshed and ready for that all-important 9 am tomorrow morning.   

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January 2022
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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

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