We live in a digital world…that is a given. I can’t remember the last day that I in some way looked at a digital screen, my TV is a flat screen LCD, same with my monitor, phone, tablet, the laptop at work…everything is digital and all this technology while wonderful is causing some serious eye strain! A few months ago my work environment (the monitor settings combined with low hanging flourescent lighting) was causing daily migraines that would not go away until the end of the work day. This went on for weeks and as soon as my environment changed…so to did the headaches.
Just before my 40th birthday I found out that my eyesight was starting to fade and that for the first time since I first got glasses at 17, I would need a different prescription (and reading glasses were fast approaching). This combined with the debilitating headaches had me start to think about all the artificial light in my life that starts at 5AM and continues well past 11PM most nights.
What is the effect on my eyes, on my brain and on my health? Can I as a power user of technology be doing long term damage to myself that will have lasting repercussions? I knew I couldn’t be alone in this and started to look for some ways that I could make things better for me and to find something more than just a worrisome feeling that I would not be blind by the time I hit 50!
In poking around the internet and looking at artificial light first…I was to say the least shocked to find at the amount of scientific research on the effects of artificial light and health concerns. With symptoms ranging from headaches like I suffered to the potential increased risk of cancer (but in reality…isn’t there a statistical claim that nearly everything increases the risk of cancer???). Death from a light bulb set aside I wanted to learn a little more about the effects on the brain and more specifically the effects on sleep that are caused by artificial light sources.
I am sure we all remember our mothers telling us to turn on a light if we are going to read and yes…it is a lot easier to read a book if there is light but in this day and age we are now supported by a back lit screen that lets us carry around half of the Library of Congress on a tablet or eReader so if the device is “lighting our lives” do we still need that external source?
Study after study has shown that the introduction of artificial light inhibits the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone that reminds us that it is time to go to sleep). The more intense the light the more we are “tricked” into thinking that it is still day light and our body fails to move into its natural sleep pattern. Having worked the night shift for the majority of my 25 year working life…I have already messed with my body’s normal sleep patterns and am still able to function for extended periods of little or no sleep and the afternoon “power nap” is still one of my favorite weekend activities.
With the effects of artificial light so well documented I have set out to find some ways and technologies that would simulate the normal rhythms and natural light that surrounds us so that my own personal effects from artificial light are not as pronounced as has been the case in the past. The Province of Ontario has passed a law that will ban incandescent lights as a way of saving on electrical costs and the alternative is the dastardly fluorescent light…the typical compact fluorescent bulb still does emit a soft light so for certain areas of the home I set out to look for some daylight bulbs that would be offset by other “soft bulbs”.
What is the difference?
It is all in the color temperature. To instantly see the difference…on the monitor or screen you are reading this on…you can adjust the temperature. To put things into perspective, the “temperature” of natural light at noon is between 5000 and 6500 Kelvin…the monitor I am at now…starts at that temperature so I actually dialed it back and set it to sRGB which dimmed the monitor noticibly but almost instantly I found my eyes adjust and it became very easy to read.
I am on a mission this weekend to both wrap up some home projects, but while at the hardware store…I will be looking a little deeper into some “sleep inducing lighting” that may just make me healthier! And as for my phone, tablets and other back lit devices…well I am going to try to move away from their use after 9PM (yeah right…like that is going to happen).
Chris J Powell