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How Lightwaves Affect Our Sleep

Author: Kayla Otoo

Editors: Hwi-On Lee and Kevy Chen

Artist: Olivia Yuan

What once seemed so great has now become an issue we all face daily — phone usage. Initially, the creation of the phone in the 19th century seemed to have many positive impacts on society. For instance, communication was made easier, and online ordering became faster than ever before. It was also very convenient to access information about what was happening worldwide. In the past, the phone was used for good. However, now that phones have advanced and have become so easily accessible, we face the risk of addiction. Many of us can admit that we use our phones right before bed to check all our social media, make final messages, etc. Then, we repeat this same cycle as soon as we wake up. Yet, many don’t realize the huge impact this small act can have on our sleep quality.

Phone screens emit blue lights that vibrate within a range of 380 to 500 nanometers on the visible light spectrum. Thus, blue light has the shortest wavelength and produces the highest energy. Our sun is our biggest source of natural blue light, which is important to our growth and development, especially at a young age. However, artificial blue light is especially harmful to our health. This artificial blue light comes from fluorescent lights, LED TVs, computers, cell phones, and tablets. Exposure to this can have long-lasting effects like eye strain. Bringing our eyes close to our screens can also heighten this risk. The Vision Council states that 80% of American adults use digital devices for more than two hours daily, and nearly 67% use two or more devices simultaneously. As a result, 59% have symptoms of digital eye strain. On the other hand, imagine Gen Z. Gen Z is the so-called “Zoomer” generation because we are the first generation to zoom into the internet. We do almost everything on our phones, including texting, calling, shopping, using social media, and often schoolwork. Our generation would have an even higher risk of eye strain. Moreover, our eyes are not good at blocking blue light. Blue light passes straight through the cornea at the front of the eye to the retina in the back, where photoreceptor cells turn the light into electrical signals. These electrical signals travel from the retina to the optic nerve in the brain, translating into images we see. Constant exposure to blue light damages retinal cells and causes vision problems such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts, which are cancerous growths on the sclera. The National Eye Institute shows children are more at risk since their eyes absorb more blue light than adults. 

Furthermore, blue light also affects our circadian rhythm. To explain, our circadian rhythm is our body’s 24-hour internal clock in the brain's hypothalamus, which controls when you sleep and wake up.  However, it doesn't just affect your sleep cycle. Circadian rhythms can affect other health aspects, such as hormones, the immune system, and digestion. In addition, research has also shown that blue light reduces levels of melatonin. This is extremely important since melatonin is responsible for controlling sleeping patterns. Therefore, low melatonin levels can result in insomnia, tiredness, and higher levels of irritability. At the cellular level, circadian rhythms use positive and negative feedback loops to regulate their expression through the BMAL1/BMAL2 and PER1/PER2/PER3 clock genes. These regulate and control transcription and translation, allowing our cells to identify the time of day before making an appropriate function based on the received input. Therefore, when our circadian rhythms are disrupted, we can face many health issues within many of our organ systems, such as our immune, reproductive, and cardiovascular systems.  In addition, using electronics right before bed can have impacts on our mental health. Almost everyone has fallen victim to “doom-scrolling.” We see something new and fun, bringing us an immense rush of joy. We continue to scroll for hours and hours to continue to feel exhilarated. Not only does this decrease our attention span, but it can also cause stress or anxiety at the sight of something negative, disrupting your sleep. On the contrary, seeing something that makes you extremely happy can cause an increased spike of dopamine, making the act of both going to sleep and staying asleep harder. 

Additionally, checking your phone first thing in the morning can negatively affect your day. Dr. Adeola Adelayo, a practicing psychiatrist at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital (Arizona), says, “Instead of giving power to yourself on how you want to start your day, you are giving that control over to your phone. You start your day checking to see how many likes you’ve gotten on a photo or responding to an irritated friend's text from the night before. This is bound to cause unnecessary stress and anxiety in your life.” She suggests starting the morning by staying phone-free, exercising, reading or writing, and eating a good breakfast will result in a happier and healthier well-being.

Whether it's at night or in the morning, our phone usage has a tremendous impact on our lives. Nowadays, we are all so reliant on our phones for various reasons. However, getting rid of the phone entirely is not the solution, nor is getting blue-light-blocking glasses, which only reduces the negative effects by 10-23%. The solution is to create a healthy relationship with your phone and set boundaries. Furthermore, engaging in more reflective and relaxing activities before and after bed are lifelong habits that will keep you healthy in both the mind, body, and spirit. 

 

Citations:

Cleveland Clinic. “3 Reasons to Ditch Your Phone before Bed.” Cleveland Clinic, 20 May

Health, Cultivating. “How Blue Light Affects Your Eyes, Sleep, and Health.” Cultivating-

your-eyes-sleep-and-health/2022/08#:~:text=What%20is%20blue%20light%3F.National Eye Institute. “How the Eyes Work | National Eye Institute.” Www.nei.nih.gov, 2019,

Olsoon, Regan. “Is Checking Your Phone in the Morning Sabotage? | Banner Health.”

www.bannerhealth.com, 3 Oct. 2019, www.bannerhealth.com/healthcareblog/teach-

Pacheco, Danielle, and Kimberly Truong. “Can Electronics Affect Quality Sleep?” Sleep

Foundation, 6 Nov. 2020, www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-electronics-

Reddy, Sujana, et al. “Physiology, Circadian Rhythm.” PubMed, StatPearls Publishing, 1

May 2023,

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519507/#:~:text=Circadian%20rhythm%20is%

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