Blue light may not be as disruptive to sleep as night mode is

Researchers at the University of Manchester have found that blue light may not be as disruptive to our sleep patterns as originally thought.

The team found that using dim, cooler lights in the evening and bright warmer lights in the day may actually be more beneficial to our health.

Current technologies are designed to limit our evening exposure to blue light by changing the screen color to more of a sepia tone. These changes may actually be sending our bodies mixed signals.

The reasoning behind this is that twilight is both dimmer and bluer than daylight and the body clock uses both of those features to determine the correct times to be asleep and awake.

By changing the lighting to sleep mode and away from the blue lighting and into sepia lighting, the body may believe it’s time to wake up.

The scientists that studied the lighting effect used specifically designed lighting on mice that allowed the team to adjust the color without changing the brightness.

In the results, the blue colors produced weaker effects on the mouse body clock than equally bright yellow colors.

According to the researchers, these findings have important implications for the design of lighting and visual displays intended to ensure healthy patterns of sleep and alertness. This is due to the body clock using a specialized light sensitive protein in the eye to measure brightness, classed melanopsin, which is better at detecting shorter wavelength photons.

This is also why researchers originally suggested that blue light might have a stronger effect.

However, our perception of color comes from the retinal cone cells and the new research shows that the blue color signals that those retinal cone cells supply actually reduce the impact of light on the body’s clock.

Dr. Tim Brown from The University of Manchester states: “We show the common view that blue light has the strongest effect on the clock is misguided; in fact, the blue colours that are associated with twilight have a weaker effect than white or yellow light of equivalent brightness.”

“There is lots of interest in altering the impact of light on the clock by adjusting the brightness signals detected by melanopsin but current approaches usually do this by changing the ratio of short and long wavelength light; this provides a small difference in brightness at the expense of perceptible changes in colour.”

He added: “We argue that this is not the best approach, since the changes in colour may oppose any benefits obtained from reducing the brightness signals detected by melanopsin.”

“Our findings suggest that using dim, cooler, lights in the evening and bright warmer lights in the day may be more beneficial.”

“Research has already provided evidence that aligning our body clocks with our social and work schedules can be good for our health. Using colour appropriately could be a way to help us better achieve that.”

This study can be found in the scientific journal Current Biology. It has been funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

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