Lights and sleep

I didn’t set out to read about light colors and sleep cycles, but as of late it seems my news feeds and newsletters are full of articles on the topic.

A big one going around is how light color – blue light – affects our sleep cycles in a negative way, due to our addiction to our mobile devices and doing things like Facebooking on our iPhone in bed before going to sleep.  Basically, light isn’t “white”, it does have color, or more specifically, a color temperature. Ever notice how some lights are more yellow-ish and some are more blue-ish? Choosing the right color temperature for your lighting matters. You’d probably want more blue-ish in places like an office or a kitchen, and more yellow-ish in your bedroom. Blue-ish corresponds more to natural daylight, and yellow-ish less-so (think sunset colors). So given that, can you see how blue-ish light is more associated with mid-day, being awake, doing things? And yellow-ish more associated with end of the day, going to sleep, and not doing things?

And so, with our mobile devices emitting more of a blue-ish light, that signals our brains to “be awake”, which isn’t the best thing to do right before bed. So more and more studies are coming out on this topic, and there’s a growing “best practice” that you should stop using the computer and your mobile devices at least an hour before bed. While color temperature is nothing new to me, I hadn’t thought about the effects from my mobile devices. For the past few weeks I’ve been working to keep my mobile device use to a minimum after supper, and if I really want to do something in bed, read a book (not an eBook).

I also found a really neat free app called f.lux. Basically, it knows your location, when sunrise and sunset will be, and automatically adjusts the color temperature of your monitor accordingly. As I write this article, it’s before sunrise and f.lux is giving my monitor a slightly yellow/orange/pink hue. As the day progresses, it will slowly change. I’m still getting used to it, still tweaking the settings, but so far I’m digging it.

Another thing you should consider? Monitor calibration. Two things here.

First, mind your brightness setting. Open any sort of window on your computer that allows you to have the full screen filled with a white window. You want to strike a brightness setting between the window still looking white (not a dull gray color) but not so bright that it winds up being a light source in your room.  I also use my Mac’s auto-adjustment of the brightness setting, but only after I’ve configured the base brightness setting.

Second, after setting the brightness, set the color calibration. If you have a Mac go to Apple Menu -> System Preferences -> Displays -> Color. Even tho Apple ships a default Display Profile, you should still click the “Calibrate” button to calibrate your monitor in your room lighting to your eyes. After calibrating, flip back and forth between the default calibration and your calibration. Chances are good things will look better with your custom calibration.

Don’t be afraid to readjust settings. Your eyes will need some time to adjust and get used to the new setup, and you may find after a few days of less eye strain that you can fine-tune your settings for even better effect.

Bottom line? Less eye strain, less wear and mental exhaustion by the end of the work day, and better sleep. Something we can all use, and it only takes a few minutes of adjusting that thing you stare at for hours on end every day. Little changes add up.