THE DARK SIDE OF BLUE LIGHT

How an ancient internal artform can provide solace during the hectic holiday season

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An ancient artform from the Eastern hemisphere, Tai Chi is a classic

Color matters – the power of the blues

The “color” of the light actually governs its effects on the human biological system, with blue wavelengths gaining the most attention recently, as the proliferation of electronic devices with screens and energy-efficient lighting dramatically increases our exposure to the blues. While blue wavelengths are beneficial during daylight hours as they boost attention, reaction times, and mood – they can be disruptive and detrimental to our sleep cycles when heavily consumed at night. Considered a master hormone marking the circadian phase, melatonin influences what time your body thinks it is, regardless of your iPhone’s clock. But maybe not, seeing as the blue light wavelengths emitted by the iPhone, iPad and similar devices have a profound suppressive effect on melatonin levels, shortening the body’s internal perception of night duration. Hence, nighttime blue light means far less sleep – and far more health implications than embracing the darkness. Harvard studies have linked post-dusk light exposure to cancer, diabetes, depression risk, heart disease and obesity, explaining such trends by demonstrating how sub-optimal circadian rhythms increase blood sugar and levels of the hormone leptin, which regulates our sense of hunger.

Environmental friends, biological foes

If blue light does have adverse health effects, then environmental efforts, like the quest for energy-efficient lighting, could be at odds with personal health. Those curlicue fluorescent lightbulbs and LED lights are more energy-efficient than classic lightbulbs, but produce much more blue light.

Simple solutions for a modern world

Refusing to succumb to an analog life for the sake of their health, a few of today’s Edisons have created a brilliant software solution to the bane of blue light – a free computer program called Flux (available for free download at JustGetFlux.com). Flux brilliantly alters the hue of your computer screen as the day goes on, pulling out the blue wavelengths as it gets later and later. Flux makers say it “adjusts the color of your computer’s display to adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day,” helping to minimize the detrimental health consequences of digital living.

And while the physics of fluorescent lights can’t be changed, the coatings inside the bulbs can be so they produce a warmer, less blue light.

Here comes the sun

It was in 1981 that research by Dr. Charles Czeisler of Harvard Medical School revealed that daylight keeps a person’s internal clock aligned with the environment, and more recent studies have only further demonstrated how critical outdoor light is for maintaining your master clock. This presents quite a pickle for people in western societies, who spend most of the day indoors, creating a natural light deficiency. “We’re not getting enough bright light exposure during the day, and then in the evening, we’re getting too much artificial light exposure,” says researcher Dan Pardi of Stanford University. “Both major factors in our rhythms getting out of sync.”

To re-harmonize, Pardi says, get anchored. Sunlight, or so-called “anchor light” anchors your rhythm, making it less fragile, and less susceptible to shifts from nighttime light. Fortunately, he says a mere 30-60 minutes of outdoor light exposure will get a healthy circadian rhythm well on its way. So get out there and soak up some sun. Science says it clear as day – you’ll hit the pillow harder (and sounder) at night.

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