Guess what time my wife and I went to bed last night?
And just in case you’re curious, I’m 31 years old.
I’ve been emailing the Outlive email subscribers about how bright, blue light at night (from TV, phones, bathroom lighting, etc.) might be making us fat.
This is because bright, blue light that is emitted from these things will stop a natural hormone our body produces, melatonin, from releasing.
And this is a huge problem not only because melatonin makes you fall and stay asleep, but because it plays such a huge role in our body. Here are just a few things that melatonin does:
- it tells fat to be burnt rather than stored (2013 study)
- it is a powerful antioxidant—even more powerful than vitamin C or beta-carotene (2015 study, study)
- it protects us from cancer (2017 study)
- it might reduce our appetite—lowering cravings for late-night snacking (study)
- it plays a critical role in our circadian rhythm, and there is a mountain of evidence that a “disturbed” circadian rhythm can negatively affect cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and even prevent women from having a healthy pregnancy (study)
- it helps with fertility and having a healthy pregnancy (2014 review)
- it makes you look younger and more youthful (study, study)
- it can help you build muscle through better tissue repair and activating growth factor synthesis (study)
And we know that blue (and green) artificial light at night is messing up our health, making us fatter, and weaker. Take a look at this chart from a 2001 study, and how blue and green light exposure at night stops melatonin from releasing, while red hardly affects it.
Anyways, while writing to the subscribers I mused that one of the solutions I see out there today is wearing “blue blockers” at night, which are special glasses that don’t let any blue or green light pass through, making the lenses orange/red. (The redder, the better.)
(You need some natural blue light from the sun during the day. But blue-blocking glasses can help at night when the sun is down, and our body was expecting to be in the pitch black.)
Or, the other option was to use candles to get around the house and not watch TV or use the laptop.
I then wondered aloud if I should do an experiment with just candles. A few readers reached out and said that I most definitely should.
With some encouragement, my wife came around, and we tried it for the week.
Switching to only candle-light with my wife
The first night we ended up talking in the near-pitch black for an hour. That was really nice. We were pretty awake, though and went to bed at our usual time.
The next night my wife was frustrated since she couldn’t knit at night anymore. I brought out another candle, but it still wasn’t bright enough for her. She said that it was fine and put her knitting away.
The next night, it was a little weird, but we went to bed a lot earlier at 10 pm, without any cajoling.
Then the next night, even earlier, at 9:30 pm. So far, so good.
It gets dark pretty early in the winter, and having run out of things to talk about, we booted up my laptop. I had F.Lux installed already (a free app for mac that changes your screen colour, Iris is a bit better and works on Windows) and put it on it’s the yellowest setting, and put the brightness at the lowest setting.
My screen was now about as bright as the candles, and we watched some Youtube. It didn’t seem to affect our sleep.
Last night, even after watching Youtube on our dimly lit screen by candlelight, we went to bed at 9:15 pm. Totally by choice. Both of us felt like that was enough of the day.
By the time I was in bed, I was so tired I didn’t even read (I don’t even remember the last time I didn’t read before bed.)
This morning I woke up by choice, fully alert, at 6 am in the pitch black before my kids.
I put on a pot of coffee. I read a little bit. It was great. By my count, that was around 8.5 hours of perfect sleep.
An Owl to a Lark
What’s more astonishing, is I’ve been a lifelong “owl.”
Kids made me into a tired “lark.”
And this candle-lit experience made me into one of those weird people who are happy and energetic in the morning.
I asked my wife how she liked the experiment. She said it was like camping.
I asked if that was good or bad. She said both.
Well, we might be keeping up with the candles for a while. But we’ve been looking more into buying blue blockers, especially for when we stay over at our family’s. (Man, how weird are we?)
Which brings us to a good question. Max, an Outlive subscriber, wrote us last week:
Awesome write up. This subject always intrigued me. Quick question (and I didn’t click on your study links so apologies if they answer this): What is the recommended time frame to stop using our devices before bed? Let’s say you want to fall asleep at 10 pm. Does the body need an hour (or more/less) without the blue light to start producing melatonin?
So in my personal experience, putting on a candle right when it started getting dark, made us feel incredibly sleepy around two hours later. So if you wanted to try a candle experiment like me, you could light the candle once it gets dark, and give it a couple of nights for your body to reorient.
So no TV, bathroom lights, or other light-emitting devices once it becomes dark.
You could read by candlelight or using an extremely dim and orange/red light.
Update—we switched to blue blocking glasses
We still use candles to get around the house, wash our face before bed, etc.
But things like the streetlights outside, our neighbours bright lights (we live in suburbia), and things like our fridge, we now wear blue-blockers.
While I was skeptical that blue-blocking glasses would work, since blue light would still be hitting my skin (which is sensitive to light), there are a number of studies showing that they work. (2009 study, 2009 study, 2016 study, 2018 study, 2018 study)
We bought the Uvex glasses to try and became hooked.
If you want to try the blue blockers, melatonin is only produced after a few hours that blue light is totally gone from the environment. So you can put on the glasses as soon as it begins to get dark.
Light is more complicated than just the colour—brightness matters too. Even with blue blockers on, I wouldn’t walk around with all your house lights on. But getting rid of all the blue (and green) light should be a start.
Here are some links for further browsing (I might get a commission if you decide to buy, but I wouldn’t link out to them if I didn’t believe in it.)
- Night-time blue-blocking glasses
- Change the colours of your laptop/TV
- F.Lux—free mac app, goes yellow
- Iris—$$ mac and windows app, goes red and has more options
- driftTV—$$$ box that your cable box run through that will shift colours
- Acrylic filter to cut to size for TV from LowBlueLights—$$ I like this option since it has zero change of impacting response rate like the driftTV might (good for gaming)
What do you think? Would you ever try the candle-lit experiment? What about wearing a pair of blue-blocking glasses? Drop me a line in the comments.