Melatonin is a hormone that helps control wake and sleep cycles in your body. It is well established that short wavelength (“blue” light) suppresses the most melatonin. This type of light is emitted by devices such as smartphones, monitors and TVs. In order to display “white” light, these electronic devices need to emit light at short wavelengths. This “white” light is very close to the maximum sensitivity causing melatonin suppression. What this means is by looking at your electronics, you are reducing the duration of your sleep and also disrupting it. Here is an excellent article with more details.

One solution is to use a program like f.lux which makes the color of your electronic device display adapt to the time of day: warm at night and like sunlight during the day. It is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and iPhone/iPad (unfortunately only if jailbroken). Another option is to use amber lenses after the sun has gone down. Amber lenses help block blue light.

 

43 Comments
  1. Having some experience with things like lucid dreaming and such, I know that electronics are definitely a detriment towards having a consistent non-REM and REM sleep cycles. That’s why I usually keep my laptop and my phone at a distance that wouldn’t affect me if I ever woke up in the middle of the night. It just shows how with things like wavelengths, brain frequencies, concepts such as frequency-follow responses, and such should be taken into consideration instead of people feeling they have insomnia.

    Thanks for the article link, David! And I’m sure this will be informative, and hopefully an eye-opener for many who have their smartphones and electronics with them at all times.

  2. This comes as news to me being the type of person that likes to browse the internet late at night and do the same with my smartphone before resting it beside me while sleeping. It always seems like everyday they find new developments in studies that are groundbreaking to our lives, with this now existing as one of them. I’m just glad that I now know about this and that others are now enlightened as well. It’s surely something to consciously wake up to. Thanks for posting this.

  3. I’ve been a longtime user of f.lux and I’m glad to see more people hearing about it. It’s really helped reduce eye strain and keep me on some semblance of a normal sleep schedule.

    Quick tips for anyone that just got it : at first it may bother you that everything is orange. Don’t worry, you’ll eventually get used to it and stop noticing all together. When this happens, everyone I know who uses f.lux has, at least one time, decided to turn it off real quick to see if it’s working. Do not do this. I don’t think the change in light will actually damage your eyes, but you’ll certainly feel like it’s going to.

    Being the great thinker that I am, some weeks after the first time I did this I concluded that my memory had become distorted and there was no way it was as bad as I remembered, so I tried it again. I regret this decision.

  4. This is really a helpful info to people of my kind because I prefer working on PC only during the night hours. I encounter this problem while sleeping at sometimes and I admit that the reason for this is clear that I work during the night.
    The article you provided is also very informative and worth sharing. I have a windows phone and it is quite good to hear from you that this program runs well in it. I never came across such programs and honestly I didn’t give a try to find such solutions till now. This is truly a good one and thank you.

  5. Amber lenses…awesome. I haven’t heard of those before. I always knew electronics before bed was bad for sleep. This is the first actual explanation I remember reading, so thanks. I always figured it was the glare and brightness of the screen; now I know its more than just those things. I think its a good idea to get away from electronics and enjoy non computer hobbies to relax before bed, but if you must (or feel you must ) be online until you go to bed, its good to know about options such as the amber lenses to help.

  6. I have the habit of watching a movie and falling asleep. Sometimes, I don’t even really watch it but listen. I’ve been doing this for over a year now and noticed that my sleeping patterns have been changing. Sometimes, I have to wait for a couple of hours before I go into a deep sleep. I am definitely going to try this out! Thanks for the information!

    • I’m glad that more attention is being drawn to this unfortunate effect of our modern attachment to screens of every size. Also, thanks for pointing out that f.lux is a good solution for those (and there are many) who like to browse or watch TV or movies in bed. A few more details: our bodies are basically designed to function according to daylight. This may come as no surprise, but many people don’t consider that anything that emits light (any bright light, but especially light in the blue EM bandwidth) tend to make the body think that it’s daytime, and thus suppress the production of melatonin, which is a hormone that helps induce sleep and maintain circadian bio-rhythms. The f.lux program (which is available on all the major OS platforms) calibrates your screen to the time of day, and turns screens reddish at night in order to minimise both brightness and blue-wave light when you’re getting ready to sleep. Obviously, red light does not inhibit the body’s production of melatonin. While f.lux helps, it should be noted that, if you’re really struggling with sleep, you may want to consider shutting off your laptop/tab/phone about a half hour before bed—I know this sounds impossible for users in whom the night-time TV show or two is deeply ingrained, but it probably will help. Remember books? They can be a good non-light emitting alternative.

  7. I never thought that the brightness of my screen before bed would change how many hours of sleep I get! On some phones I know that the screen brightness will change automatically by the lighting in the room you are in or even outside. The thought of this all makes me not want to use my electronics anytime before I’m about to go to sleep.

    • Honestly you’d be better off not using any kind of electronic devices before going to bed. But you can also use that software David mentioned in his article, there are a few others you can use, but the one David suggested is one of the best ones. You should give it a try if you are finding hard to give up using your electronic devices before going to bed.

      • Sound advice, I’ve found that I am sleeping a lot better since I stopped using devices for at least an hour before going to bed. I just never knew why until I read this article.

  8. Thank you for this information! I never considered that the amount and quality of sleep I get might be influenced by something as seemingly mundane as the brightness of my tablet screen. I’ll make sure to use auto-brightness of such devices from now on, especially ones that I use at night. With any luck (and science!) the quality of my sleep should improve. Nobody every said that being a technophile wouldn’t have its downsides.

  9. I have heard about this before. I never knew that the wrong type of light coming from your screen could affect your sleep. I guess I am going to have to download f.lux now…

  10. Very interesting article! I’m constantly using both my phone and laptop for work and I only thought about the distance of the screen to my eyes for my nearsightedness. I guess now I need to pay closer attention to other aspects of reading when using my technology. Thanks for the post David.

  11. I have enough trouble sleeping at night and my work on my laptop does not help in any way. I have tried to use flux but I do not like the yellowish tint on my screen while I browse at night. I think I’ll come to my senses and give it another shot. After all, it is our health that should be our primary concern.

  12. I heard about this problem and I believe it is one of the primary cause of rising insomnia or insomnia-like cases among teenagers and youth of today. I personally use a blue theme on all my devices as I have observed that it gives me a relaxing experience compared to using another coloured theme. I am myself experiencing bad sleep cycles. I will try to stay away from my devices in the night from now on.

  13. I have known about this melatonin stuff but have never done anything to stop. Its really hard for me to stop using my iphone at night when there are so many interesting things to do in the internet. It would be neat if phones have some kind of feature that locks it for certain hours so that person can’t use it.

  14. Great article, David. This will help a lot of people who want to Lucid Dream but can’t or just want to sleep through without any problems. I’ve been using f.lux on my iPad for a good few months now, nearly six months give or take and I can say that it’s a wonderful tweak. The screen becomes so much more comfortable to look at and the fact that they even change the type of lighting once you pass 6pm and transition over to evening is great. I personally thought the original screen color was all fine and good, but after crossing over and using it I can’t go by without it, or my eyes just can’t take the normal screen. It’s hard to explain really, but even if you don’t need the melatonin, it just feels so much more comfortable to the eyes. It’s free on Cydia, you can grab it. It’s only for jailbroken iOS, though.

  15. I LOVE f.lux! It’s one of the only reasons I jailbreak my phone anymore. It’s so much easier on the eyes, that when I don’t have it on or use another device, I can’t find out what’s wrong until I realize it’s because of that!

  16. That explains why I’m having such a hard time falling asleep after browsing on my phone. But sometimes if im really tired I fall asleep while watching a video or something .. pretty weird.

  17. Wow this is a very informative article. I never knew this before thanks a lot for this. I work a lot in front of my computer and I sometimes reach the point that I had to stay up until 2 in the morning working because I can’t really sleep. Thanks a lot for this, really helpful.

  18. So that explains it for me. I have horrible sleep patterns and maybe it’s because I’m always staring at my computer screen for extended periods of time. I’ve downloaded the Flux app now for my PC and I’m loving it. Thanks a lot for the info!

  19. This is very interesting. I have all kinds of problems sleeping, crazy vision and headaches at times. I spend way too long staring at monitors and screens. I will certainly look into the program you have mentioned.

  20. This is very interesting news to me. I am on my phone and laptop all day and night sometimes because of work. There has been times that I was so sleepy but I could not put my phone down. When I woke up, I had a bad headache and really did not get much sleep.

  21. I’ve heard that monitors are bad for your sleep before but I had no idea it had to do with the type of light. I am guilty of using my ipad and phone way too late in the night…I’m going to try the app that adjusts your screen colors. If nothing else it will be easier on my eyes.

  22. I am definitely going to download f.lux and thanks for this article. I use my computer a lot, and I know it has been the reason for lack of sleep and spoiling my eyes. But I never really thought about doing anything about it. I am going to try and see how such programs benefit my eyes now.

  23. Wow, that is something that I did not know. I’ve been having insomnia lately, and I realised that I have been using a lot of gadgets lately. I recommend you guys to read the article, it’s very informative

  24. Whenever I’m on my phone at night I use an app that dims down my screen brightness and gives it a more orange-ish tone. It really helps me sleep better because the general blue tone of your screen can cause a lot of problems. I think we should see more of those apps implemented on the upcoming phones, maybe even on computers.

  25. I use f.lux on my iPad and it creates quite a difference. Before, the light was quite irritating to the eyes during the night and made me have troubles fall asleep. I wonder if they could possibly integrate something into the screen or the glass in order to prevent this from happening.

  26. I have the bad habit of bringing my cell phone to bed with me because I don’t want to miss anything. I’ve sometimes asked myself, “how did people live without cell phones?” I wish I could put it down long enough to get a decent night of sleep but I always end up scrolling through social media websites and imgur and things like that. I tell myself it’s to help wind me down after a long day but….I end up spending two hours scrolling through web pages. I’m going to try turning my phone theme to a more night-time color to try to help out but I’m not sure that I can shake my addiction to my phone long enough to get some shut eye!

  27. I just experienced this recently and I am positively surprised to find this explanation here. It just so happened that these days I used the MAcbook to watch films at night in bed and once finished and put down the laptop I notice how the room is still very much lit up. I ignored it for a night or two, but then I realised in the mornings I did not have a good night sleep at all.

    I will endeavor to using the suggested program flux and see how it goes, thank you very much!

  28. I wouldn’t claim to be affected in any way. I sleep just fine after watching a late movie on my laptop with the lights off. And the laptop is normally a foot distance from where I’m resting. Sometimes, I even black out in the middle of the movie. I’ll start investigating this now.

  29. In the past I used to think it was the portable radio and its earphones that is causing sleep issues. Apparently that, too, and the other electronic devices we use on a daily basis. Using electronic devices moderately and turning off electronic devices when they are not in use have also been the common suggestions in resolving sleep issues caused by electronic devices. Having a specific program to directly handle the causes of sleep issues is a relatively new option for me. I didn’t find many programs that are designed to solve the problems caused by our use of electronic devices in the spotlight.

  30. Interesting, I didn’t know this. I’m always by some type of electronic. Even when I’m laying on my bed for sleep, I have my cell phone near by. So, to be honest, I actually have nothing to compare to. And now that I’m thinking about it… this is really crazy because that wouldn’t have been true 15 years ago. Then, I had many days away from electronics. Wow, how time has changed.

  31. After reading the article, it kind of makes sense to me. I am constantly on many different types of electronic devices all throughout the day, everyday. Not only so I not get enough sleep, but I also don’t sleep until really late.

  32. Maybe this is a reason to why I have sleep issues.

    I’ve been suffering from sleeping issues for a while now and maybe this has something to do with it. I think I will either try one of these programs or just shut everything off when I go to bed. I love falling asleep to a video or movie however which is why I have my laptop with me in bed often. Maybe I have to stop doing that. :/

  33. As someone who has seen many sleep doctors because of sleep/wake cycle disorders, I have to say that the light electronics emit plays very little into having a healthy sleep rotation. The biggest factor electronics play in a healthy sleep rotation is simply knowing when to turn them off and go to bed. If you leave the TV on, its not the light that is a distraction, its the fact that people are going to be more interested in whats ON the TV. Studies have shown that if you play the same movie on the TV before bed every night for a month, that movie can actually help you fall to sleep faster as your body and mind are conditioned to sleep when its on.

  34. I had no idea that electronic devices could cause sleep issues. However, after reading the article you linked to, it seems obvious that they would! The f.lux software looks like a great idea, particularly for thise who are guilty of working far too much.

  35. I have a similar app in my phone that I use called “twilight” . I also listen to binaural beats combined with relaxing melodies to aid in sleeping. Blue light is not all that bad tho… It’s is good for waking up in the morning, and I think people need more of it during the day because most of us don’t get enough sunlight.

  36. I have f.lux istalled on all of my devices. I’ve been using it for two years now, it’s kind of become a normal thing for me, I don’t notice it anymore. It really does help your eyes, I feel like they are less strained from staring at the screen all day. Reducing the backlight on your monitors also helps. That and reading your text in green colors with black background.

  37. I had heard about this before, how the light from our own electronics was affecting our sleeping patterns and why we shouldn’t watch TV or use the computer before going to bed. Sadly I can’t always do that, because I have a TV in my room. I also have a laptop in my room and I often need to use it before going to bed, but that amazing software sounds like the perfect solution. Thanks a lot for the useful info!

  38. f.lux is a life saver! There’s so many jailbreak tweaks that can help with your sleeping cycle. I’m not sure what it’s called but I used to have one that shut my phone off at exactly 10 PM (you get to time it) and that would help me go to sleep on time. Sure, it was annoying if I was doing something important but nothing should be more important than taking care of yourself.

  39. This is a great article, my partner and I have often discussed how the use of devices can repress the production of melotonin (we have learned about this because we both have problems with sleep) and so often we will be looking at our smartphones or computer screens late at night and the hours just pass without us feeling tired. The f.lux program looks like a great solution but I also think trying to set up a natural sleeping environment by turning off your devices is helpful for getting a healthy nights sleep!

  40. I actually heard a lot about this hormone on my neurology class about a year ago and my professor always told us that we need to get away from any electronical device that emitted this type of light so we can sleep better that way… But I think this doesn’t apply for everyone, I always read a little bit on my iPod right before going to bed, and it’s already been about five years with that habit and I haven’t had any sleeping problems before.

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