Cortisol is a hormone, and one of the main stress response chemicals produced by the adrenal glands. It is responsible for maintaining the health of and proper communication between every cell in your body. When it is in a healthy rhythm, cortisol is highest in the morning to give us energy and kick start our day, keep inflammation low, and immune response at its peak. It is naturally lowest before bed allowing us to wind down into a rest-and-repair phase.
Prolonged exposure to digital devices at night that emit high levels of blue light, Lowers Melatonin production an important hormone that controls the sleep-wake cycle and can raise Cortisol levels associated with stress. When this natural cycle is disrupted, we can end up with:
- Sleep problems (insomnia, waking in the night, waking up tired in the morning)
- Hormonal imbalances
- Anxiety and depression
- Blood sugar and metabolic problems (including sugar cravings, metabolic syndrome, PCOS, and diabetes)
- Weight challenges
- Decreased memory, focus, and willpower
- Immune system imbalances leading to more frequent infections, reactivation of old viruses, allergies, inflammation, and even autoimmune disease
In fact, most long-term chronic health problems can be traced to disturbances in the natural Cortisol pattern. For example, obesity, digestive problems, diabetes, and even cancer have been linked to disturbances in Cortisol rhythm. So resetting your Cortisol rhythm is one of the most important steps we can take to lower stress and promote balance in our lives now, and ensure our health for the long term.
Disruption to Our Natural Circadian Rhythm
Before the invention of the light bulb, our Circadian Rhythms were well in sync with the sun, because nighttime light disruption was minimal.
Your Circadian Rhythm is basically a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. It's also known as your sleep/wake cycle.
Today our exposure to blue light naturally emitted from the sun, isn’t controlled by the sun alone and the prolonged use of electronic devices in the hours leading up to bedtime has significantly increased our daily exposure to blue light.
Exposure to artificial blue light in the evening can really disrupt the Circadian Rhythm. This disruption likely leads to a lower quality and quantity of sleep - which can result in major depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety and other mood disorders.
What You Can Do
When done consistently, limiting the time spent on electronic devices in the evening alone can transform your life by resetting your sleep and lowering your Cortisol levels. While the science behind how blue light affects our health is still being studied, there are easy steps you can take today to protect your health.
- Limit screen time. Perhaps the most important thing you can do to protect your health from the harmful effects of nighttime lighting is to limit screen time after the sun goes down.
- Remember the most significant environmental trigger to your Circadian Rhythm is light. The metabolic processes should follow roughly a 24-hour pattern, so exposure to lighting in longer intervals can be disruptive. Because digital screens emit a significant amount of Blue Light, limiting your exposure to these sources is a great first step.
Try it tonight! Turn off your digital screens two hours before bed. It's likely that you’ll start sleeping better immediately and you’ll also begin to feel better over time.
- Wear Blue Light Glasses. Blue light glasses are a trending topic, because they offer so many health benefits. They work by blocking a portion of the blue light wavelength from reaching your eyes.
- Remember that blue light is particularly important in regulating your circadian rhythm, because it creates the strongest response from the ipRGC photoreceptors. These receptors play an important role in the circadian rhythm and mood regulation. When we are exposed to these wavelengths at the wrong time of day, it can confuse our bodies.
- Get Outside during the day and reset your circadian rhythm. Exposing yourself to sunlight will send a signal to your body and help regulate your circadian systems.
- Adjust screen brightness. Maybe you work the night shift, respond to after hours emails, or simply want to catch up on your favourite TV drama, sometimes avoiding screens at night is difficult. Blue light glasses will protect you from any source of the wavelength. However, many mobile phones and computers also offer the option to adjust your screen’s brightness. You may find that shifting your brightness down during the evening can help minimize light pollution in your home.
- Change your light bulbs. Many energy saving light bulbs contain LEDs, which tend to produce higher amounts of blue light. By switching your light bulbs to a warmer hue, you can reduce your exposure.