Is Light Keeping Your Children Awake?

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  • April 13, 2014

We depend on artificial light for work and leisure, but we seldom question whether that light is healthy or not. But new research shows that some types of artificial light can actually be dangerous to you and your family.

Blue LIght
Photo credit: evansklar.blogspot.com

Artificial light is something we take for granted. It’s all around us, at every moment of the day and night. When the electricity goes out and we lose that precious light for even a few minutes, our kids complain about being thrown back into the Stone Age. But do you ever really think about the amount and type of artificial light that you and your children are exposed to?

Artificial light–and in particular compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and light produced by electronic devices like tablets, phones and computers–emits a type of UV light called Blue Light, that has been shown to be very damaging to humans and animals.

Exposure to Blue Light can interfere with sleep patterns, cause excitability in children and pets, and contribute to health problems like macular degeneration and breast cancer.

“Light is the most important environmental input
after food and water, in controlling bodily functions.”

— R. J. Wurtzman, Scientific American

What Is Blue Light?

 

Blue Light is a type of UV (Ultra Violet) light and is defined as part of the invisible spectrum of light, which ranges from 500nm to 381nm range. It has long been established that UV light can cause cancers like skin cancer, and is the major cause of macular degeneration. But new research conducted by Harvard University has now concluded that Blue Light is responsible for everything from insomnia and migraines to obesity and increased risk of breast cancer.

 

Why Is Blue Light So Dangerous?

 

To answer this question, you must first understand the human body-clock, or circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle within our bodies that regulates when we sleep, wake and eat. The circadian rhythm is regulated by melatonin, a powerful hormone secreted in the brain by the pineal gland. Blue Light suppresses the production of melatonin. So, no melatonin equals an abnormal circadian rhythm.

 

All living organisms have a circadian rhythm, from our pets to our children. Circadian rhythm is the balance of many physiological processes within the body. Any disruption of this biological rhythm can drastically affect how we sleep, how we metabolize food, and how our bodies deal with stress and disease.

In fact, the Harvard research confirmed what scientists have suspected for many years: that disrupting the natural circadian rhythm increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, depression and bipolar disorder. Along with increased instances of eye problems like cataracts and macular degeneration, suppressed melatonin has been linked to increased Breast Cancer rates, and hyperactivity in children.

Melatonin is produced in the body only at night, and only in darkness. When we are exposed to Blue Light at night, whether it’s through CFLs, computers, phones or iPads, our bodies stop producing melatonin. Even brief exposure to Blue Light at night can wreck havoc with our ability to produce melatonin.

The production of melatonin is crucial to the body’s ability to maintain an adequate circadian rhythm. Without this 24-hour cycle, our bodies begin to feel the adverse effects and sleeping, eating and wakefulness patterns can quickly run amok.

 

How Do I Address The Blue Light Issue In My Home?

 

The best thing to do is limit Blue Light exposure during the evening hours. Limiting Blue Light at night will help your body produce melatonin, eliminating or lessening the effects of overall exposure.

But you needn’t return to the 1800s and sit in darkness or read by candlelight to help protect your children. Studies show that Blue Light drops off after about 5 feet, so night time exposure can be limited with a little preparation. For children especially, this will mean no computer or tablet device for at least 2 hours before bedtime, since these items are generally within 12 inches of the face. But, thankfully, most TVs, which also produce Blue Light, are at least 5 feet away from the viewer. Just remind the little ones not to sit too close. (Funny, isn’t that the same advice our moms gave us?)

Also, starting about 2 hours before bedtime, turn off any CFLs. If you must use CFL bulbs in table lamps, move the lamps to at least 5 feet away from you. Turn off overhead lights, and in general, even with incandescent bulbs, dim lighting and place it further away from you.

But if you just can’t imagine a world where your kids can’t play on the iPad or must sit in a darkened room just to be healthy and get a good night’s sleep, hold on. There’s a special LED light called the Good Night Sleep Light available that eliminates Blue Light altogether. These lights can replace CFLs or incandescent bulbs in table lamps and overhead fixtures in rooms where you spend pre-bedtime hours. There is even a filter available to remove Blue Light from computer screens and tablet devices called SleepShield.

These days, we have a lot on our plates just trying to navigate all the dangers that we can see, let alone something like Blue Light that we can’t see. In a perfect world, we’d never have to worry about artificial lighting and the harmful effects it has on our children. But we don’t live in a perfect world, so we have to take charge and protect our families the best way we can. Eliminating or lessening exposure to Blue Light is another obstacle we have to avoid on the road of life, but one that will be worth it in the long run. Put it on your To-Do list.

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Sebrina Zerkus Smith is regular contributor to Yahoo! and CNN.com Her background includes copywriting duties for major marketing projects from studios such as CBS, NBC and Disney. She has written games and content for children read by thousands around the world as part of her work with The Good Newz Children’s Bulletins. Sebrina is also a popular blogger and magazine writer. She has written articles for clients such as Greenopolis, MacAddict, Whole Foods Market and more.

Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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