New research demonstrates that prolonged exposure to artificial blue light can result in difficulty sleeping and feelings similar to depression.
Beyond fatigue, however, a recent study published by the Journal of Neuroscience showed that exposure to blue light can cause symptoms of depression.
Electronic devices are the largest contributors to exposure to blue light, and using these devices can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm, the internal clock that determines when a person should go to sleep.
During the day, the human body is nearly free of melatonin, which is the hormone that causes fatigue. During the night, the body’s internal clock responds to darkness by producing melatonin, which allows people to fall asleep.
Individual surroundings ultimately inform the body when to stay awake and when to fall asleep.
As people more often find themselves in front of screens at night, they are subconsciously delaying their body’s internal clock. Artificial light tricks the brain into thinking it is still daytime. In doing so, people are preventing their bodies from producing melatonin.
In the study, performed on hamsters, researchers found that hamsters showed more symptoms of depression when exposed to blue light than when they were exposed to red light.
“We hypothesized that nocturnal light exposure would induce depressive responses and alter neuronal
structure in hamsters,” scientists said in the study “Nocturnal Light Exposure Impairs Affective Responses in a Wavelength-Dependent Manner,” which was published in the Journal of Neuroscience in August.
“I usually don’t stay up much later than I need to because of technology,” said Zack Peters, sophomore pre-nursing major.
For many people, however, turning off their electronic devices at night is not an option.
“The times when I get to relax … are at night, which is usually spent watching Netflix or … Instagram,” said Luke Salazar, junior marketing major.
With this reality in mind, a pair of developers built f.lux, a computer application that synchronizes a computer’s display with sunrise and sunset.
Going to bed early or changing a computer’s tint may not be a perfect solution to the blue light epidemic affecting our sleep and emotions, but they are practical options.