Watching TV before bed to help you sleep is like eating low fat donuts to lose weight – it will be satisfying but won’t help the cause. News flash: TV at night time is bad for you. The problem lies not in the bad content of network television but with the amount of blue light that the television set emits.
If you have little regard for the importance of sleep, this won’t help you much. If, on the other hand, you care about your body and long-term well-being, you should pay attention as this information may be valuable in lowering the risk of sleep disorders, heart disease, and other health problems down the road.
Like most members of our 24/7 tech-immersed society, we are constantly interacting with gadgets that emit blue light. This can be in the form of reading an email from your computer, playing a cell-phone game, or watching TV. If you are reading this on anything other than paper, your eye is processing blue light. Although, appropriately timed exposure to blue light can be good for your levels of alertness, performance, and mood during the day, inappropriately timed exposure to blue light can significantly disrupt sleep and circadian rhythms – your body’s internal clock.
Quick rundown in laymans terms (technical terms will be in parentheses): Our bodily functions are controlled by a 24 hour rhythm (circadian rhythm), which is primarily influenced by light. Light is processed through the photoreceptor system of our eyes and enters our brain (suprachiasmatic nuclei) using a “bridge” (photosensitive retinal ganglion cells). Our brain then affects our body in a variety of ways like body temperature, blood pressure, melatonin production, etc. If exposure to light and different types of light changes, our circadian rhythms shift.
So what? How does TV affect my sleep? Simply put: exposure to blue light after dark messes with your circadian rhythms and suppresses your body’s melatonin production. As a result, sleep suffers and a continuous cycle can result in long-term health problems such as insomnia, heart disease, and obesity.
Would you give up Thursday Night Football (or Real Housewives)? Chances of you abandoning TV and various other gadgets like cellphones are pretty slim. You can, however, take preventative measures such as wearing blue blocking glasses once the sun goes down. And we are not talking about the blu-blocker sunglasses made fashionable by the Hangover movies.
We are talking about these normal looking glasses that simply block out blue wavelengths.
You don’t need anything fancy and can get a pair of these on amazon for $25.
You could also download a nifty program called f.lux which makes the color of your screen adapt to the time of day, thus mimicking natural circadian rhythms and allowing you to sleep better. Small steps like this can have huge impacts on your health, well being, and attitude.