Biohack is a term used to describe the management of one’s personal biology using an approach that employs a combination of nutritional, medical and even electronic solutions.
In this particular article, a clever biohack is revealed that can help all of us get better quality sleep despite the typical and frequently necessary use of LED devices after sundown, sometimes even immediately before bed!
The Biological Danger of Blue Light after Dark
If you spend any time during your day gazing at any sort of screen, you’ve probably read that the blue light that is widely used in pretty much all electronic devices including phones, tablets, laptops, and TVs represents a serious threat to a good night’s sleep and long term wellness.
The term “blue light” refers to the blue component in ordinary white light that affects our circadian rhythm by suppression of the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. The cause is the photoreceptor in our eyes, called Melanopsin that is sensitive to a narrow band of blue light in the 460-480nm range. When this photoreceptor “sees” blue light, melatonin production is negatively affected for up to 4 hours!
By contrast, red light is good for the eyes by improving mitochondrial function in the retina.
Excessive exposure to blue light especially at night is causing more problems than disruption of natural circadian rhythms and insomnia, however, as melatonin does far more than just make us sleepy. It is also a powerful antioxidant that research suggests plays a pivotal role in slowing the progression of cancer and other degenerative diseases. Ailments linked to blue light overexposure include diabetes, breast and prostate cancer, lupus and migraine headaches.
Optometrists are even seeing high levels of retinal stress and eye lens cloudiness in young people that could lead to the early onset of macular degeneration and cataracts.
Dr. William Harrison, a well-known optometrist in California, says:
Here’s what doesn’t need research: 415 to 445nm is super hot [blue] light, and if it’s really focused and brought up close – when you’re talking about a tablet six inches from a kid’s face – it’s got to be significant.
Research out of Harvard suggests that what Dr. Harrison is saying is no exaggeration. Scientists conducted an experiment comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of blue light exposure to exposure from green light of comparable brightness. Melatonin suppression occurred for twice as long from the blue light as compared with the green light. In addition, circadian rhythms were shifted by 3 full hours.
In another study, University of Toronto researchers compared melatonin levels of people exposed to bright indoor light who were wearing blue-light–blocking glasses to people exposed to regular dim light without wearing goggles. The resulting melatonin levels were about the same between the two groups.
This research gives credence to the notion that we can indeed protect ourselves by either wearing inexpensive orange-tinted sunglasses or by exposing ourselves to dimmer light after sundown.
The problem with orange-tinted lenses is that they block other colors too and can be impractical for use at night. Glasses that block only blue light are pricey and can cost up to $80.
I don’t personally use orange-tinted lenses – I’ve found another solution that is working fabulously well for me.
Free Biohack App Filters Blue Light
When I learned about the health dangers of blue light, I was concerned because I do a lot of work in front of a computer screen or from my phone.
While the minimum recommendation is to not use any LED screens at least one hour before bedtime, the truth is that you shouldn’t have ANY blue light exposure after sundown.
That’s right. None at all!
How in the world could I manage that? Some of my work is frequently done after the kids are in bed for an hour or two.
What I discovered and have been using is a free circadian rhythm adjustment app that I downloaded to my phone and to my laptop. I’ve had family members do the same.
For Mac, Linux, iPhones, and iPads, the app is called f.lux (get it for free here).
For Android and Windows users (Chrome browser only), the app is called Twilight (get it for free here).
Another similar app is called Bluelight Filter. You can try this app too although it is different from the one I am using, so I can’t vouch for how good it is (get it for free here).
What these apps do is switch automatically from blue light to a soft, pleasant orange-reddish light filter at sundown. You can make the switch go quickly or slowly when the sun sets and the smoothness of the transition is adjustable based on your timezone. I advise that you make the change quickly, as your body won’t make melatonin for up to four hours after you’ve been staring at a screen with blue light!
It will take you a couple of days to get used to it, but I promise you that when you do in short order, you won’t even notice the change anymore!
Go ahead, download one of these apps right now! It takes like 15 seconds. You can thank me later.
If this cool tip has you excited, then I recommend you take a peek at the 9 Science-Backed Secrets to Perfect Sleep Webclass below that I taped with Bob Rasmussen, a world-renowned sleep expert.
Bob and I go over a number of tips to help you get a better night’s sleep, biohacking with circadian rhythm apps being only one helpful use of technology to manage our personal biology for the better. Discussion of the importance of a nontoxic mattress like Intellibed is also examined in detail to promote healthful slumber.
It is very important to consider sleep not just as an activity, but as an actual nutrient. Quality deep sleep where you go to sleep quickly, stay asleep all night, and awaken refreshed is one of the three essentials for good health: clean, whole foods, adequate exercise, and quality sleep. If any of these three is missing or subpar, the three-legged stool of health will be wobbly or even topple over.
I hope you enjoy the webinar, and I look forward to hearing your feedback on how the information has given you some food for thought on getting a better night’s sleep.
Sources and More Information
What is Blue Light from Screens Really Doing to Our Eyes?
Harvard Health: Blue Light Has a Dark Side
f.lux is truly awesome. I’ve been using it for years and can really tell a difference if I switch it off at night. Thanks so much for the tip on Twilight for Android!
FYI, you’ve listed as f.lux NOT available for Windows PCs. It certainly does work with Windows…just go to the link.
Ditto on the person who said f.lux is only available to jailbroken iphones. Same goes for an ipad…it needs to be jailbroken. Once jailbroken, you can install it from the Cydia app store. If you’re even moderately technically inclined, jailbreaking is pretty easy if you follow one of the “official” guides out there. Back up your iDevice to iTunes, “restore” the device to a factory state, do the jailbreak process, make sure Cydia works by downloading an app (such as flux), then replace your backed-up data to your device in iTunes. Make sure you use a program and guide that specifically lists that it will work with your version of iOS.
So I’ve got to jailbreak all my devices to use this app? Seems an unusual recommendation from here.
Should download without any changes on your part. Mine was simple to do and took seconds.
I cannot see a way to download this app without jailbreaking my phone. Any other suggestions to get this app?
No jailbreak needed if you have Android (use the Twilight app suggested).
Jailbreak is only needed to install f.lux on an iphone or ipad.
Trust me, it’s worth it…I decided to jailbrake my ipad for the SOLE REASON that I could install f.lux on it. There’s really little else that I want or need from jailbreaking. Well worth the hassle.
F.lux works flawlessly and beautifully. Every device should come with this pre-installed, IMO. I just tried Twilight for Android and while it does make the screen warmer, it also makes the screen far less easy on the eyes (it seems to pixelate the screen). It’s better than nothing, though. I have not bothered to jailbreak (“root”) my Android, because the process is far more complicated than doing so for an iphone/ipad.
What about a program for laptops? Are there any available?
Yes, the second link above is for Windows laptops (Chrome browser only).
I have f.lux on my computer and love it. I turn out all the lights in my house in the evenings. I have salt lamps (they are orange, like a wood fire, which does not affect sleep) in every room of my house so I’m not completely in the dark. I’m sure it helps.
I would definitely love to have one of these Intellibeds, they sound ideal. In the meantime I sleep on an organic kapok and wool futons, with wood platforms and love them. They do require turning every once in a while. I’ve had them 2 years and they are still fine. I need to do a sleep monitor while sleeping on them just to see if I get restorative sleep but if I go by how I feel I’m pretty sure I am getting restorative sleep, if I pay attention to the other factors, blood sugar, exercise, caffeine. light pollution also.
The company that I bought the futons and platforms from, Carolina Mornings, also has a grounding mattress cover that I use too. It helps with sleep and inflammation.
Any thoughts on these futons, Sarah? Thank you for your blog!
Yes … more info coming on those futons. It will likely require it’s own post 🙂
Thank you for a wonderful article.
Simple rhythmic and primitive reflex movements are also excellent for helping with sleep issues among many other benefits.
These natural, neurodevelopmental movements are profoundly beneficial for sleep issues as well as helping with sensory processing, focus and learning. See the book by Harald Blomberg, MD and Moira Dempsey called, Movements That Heal.
I typically teach this course to OTs, but parents, professionals, therapists, health care providers, social workers, educators and many others have taken the course and are using these tools with great success.
I tried to download the one for the iPhone but it said it was an invalid address.
I went to install f.lux on my iphone and it is telling me to “jailbreak” my phone… Sarah is this what you had to do? I’m concerned how/if this will affect my phone.
I used the Twilight app (second link). It worked great and no need to do anything to my phone to get it to work.
F.lux is only available for jailbroken iPhones. Apple restricts control of regular apps and doesn’t allow any app that kind of control over the whole OS. I did a search for blue light and there is are some blue light filtering browsers I did find, but nothing as simple as an overall blue light filter. Thanks for the great info though!
what’s the ‘right’ amount of sleep? has the concept of ‘second sleep’ crossed your path? certain wild animals (lions, tigers) sleep much more than we do. do they know something we don’t?
The problem is gadgets now like to add green or blue lights, so I have to banish or cover them.
But it is true. I swapped one of the room lights for a bright red LED light with no blue (anything green or blue looks black, white and red look the same) – if I need to get up at night, I can see perfectly, yet get back to bed, or even read (yes, it’s that bright) or do other things until I fall asleep.