Amber-tinted glasses may provide relief for insomnia

December 15, 2017, Columbia University Medical Center
The amber lenses used in the insomnia study block out a substantial portion of blue light but do not result in an overall dimming of the light levels reaching the eye. Orange lenses (not tested) may be more effective for improving sleep because they block out blue light almost completely and reduce the intensity, or brightness, of light. Credit: Ari Shechter

How do you unwind before bedtime? If your answer involves Facebook and Netflix, you are actively reducing your chance of a good night's sleep. And you are not alone: 90 percent of Americans use light-emitting electronic devices, such as smartphones and laptops, in the hour before bed, despite the fact that such behavior is associated with symptoms of insomnia. The obvious solution is to ditch the technology, but people rarely heed this advice.

Knowing that individuals with are also unlikely to change their ways, researchers from Columbia University Medical Center tested a method to reduce the adverse effects of evening ambient light exposure, while still allowing use of blue light-emitting devices. Their findings will be published in the January issue of Journal of Psychiatric Research.

Smartphones, tablets and other light-emitting devices are lit by LEDs, which have a peak wavelength in the blue portion of the spectrum. Blue light at night suppresses melatonin and increases alertness; the use of amber-tinted lenses that block blue light mitigates these effects.

The Columbia team, led by Ari Shechter, PhD, assistant professor of medical sciences, reasoned that selectively blocking blue light in the hours before bedtime would lead to improved sleep in individuals with insomnia.

To test their theory, the researchers recruited 14 individuals with an insomnia diagnosis to take part in a small study. For seven consecutive nights, participants wore wrap-around frames with amber-tinted lenses that blocked blue light or with clear placebo lenses for two hours before bedtime. Four weeks later, participants repeated the protocol with the other set of glasses.

The researchers found that participants got around 30 minutes extra sleep when they wore the amber lenses compared to the clear lenses. In self-reported sleep surveys, participants also reported greater duration, quality, and soundness of sleep, and an overall reduction in insomnia severity.

These findings are consistent with prior studies showing a benefit of blue-light-blocking lenses in improving sleep, but should be replicated in larger controlled studies, Shechter said.

"Now more than ever we are exposing ourselves to high amounts of blue light before bedtime, which may contribute to or exacerbate sleep problems," Shechter said. "Amber lenses are affordable and they can easily be combined with other established cognitive and behavioral techniques for insomnia management."

Many smartphones screens can now be adjusted to emit amber instead of blue light, and Shechter said these settings should help to improve sleep. "I do recommend using the amber setting on smartphones at night, in addition to manually reducing the brightness levels. But blue light does not only come from our phones. It is emitted from televisions, computers, and importantly, from many light bulbs and other LED light sources that are increasingly used in our homes because they are energy-efficient and cost-effective," he said.

"The glasses approach allows us to filter out blue-wavelength light from all these sources, which might be particularly useful for individuals with sleep difficulties."

The use of amber lenses also appeared to reduce blood pressure in the study's participants (these data are published in the September issue of Sleep Medicine). "Insomnia is often characterized by physiologic hyperarousal, which may account for the relationship between and cardiovascular risk," Dr Shechter explained. "Going forward, it will be interesting to examine whether this blue- blocking approach can be useful for improving cardiovascular outcomes like hypertension in individuals with poor ."

The paper is titled "Blocking nocturnal for insomnia: A randomized controlled trial."

Explore further: Artificial light from digital devices lessens sleep quality

Related Stories

Artificial light from digital devices lessens sleep quality

July 28, 2017
There's no doubt we love our digital devices at all hours, including after the sun goes down. Who hasn't snuggled up with a smart phone, tablet or watched their flat screen TV from the comfort of bed? A new study by researchers ...

People who worry about insomnia have more health problems than non-worriers, study finds

November 7, 2017
People who worry about poor sleep have more emotional and physical problems during the day than those who do not worry, regardless of how well either sleep, according to research conducted at The University of Alabama.

Plenty of light during daytime reduces the effect of blue light screens on night sleep

August 10, 2016
The use of smartphones and tablet computers during evening hours has previously been associated with sleep disturbances in humans. A new study from Uppsala University now shows that daytime light exposure may be a promising ...

Lighting color affects sleep and wakefulness

June 8, 2016
A research team from Oxford University have shown how different colours of light could affect our ability to sleep.

Improving sleep in children with ADHD has some lessons for all parents

June 5, 2017
Every evening around the world, parents put their children to bed, hoping they'll go to sleep easily. For most parents that's exactly what happens. But for some kids, sleep does not come easily and evenings are a battle.

Children's sleep quality linked to mothers' insomnia

August 31, 2017
Children sleep more poorly if their mothers suffer from insomnia symptoms - potentially affecting their mental wellbeing and development - according to new research by the University of Warwick and the University of Basel.

Recommended for you

Research finds a little exercise does a lot of good for ageing muscles

May 24, 2018
Getting old doesn't necessarily mean getting weak and frail – just a little bit of exercise can help maintain muscle mass and strength, Otago research has revealed.

Hot cars can hit deadly temperatures in as little as one hour

May 24, 2018
A lot can happen at 160 degrees Fahrenheit: Eggs fry, salmonella bacteria dies, and human skin will suffer third-degree burns. If a car is parked in the sun on a hot summer day, its dashboard can hit 160 degrees in about ...

In helping smokers quit, cash is king, e-cigarettes strike out

May 23, 2018
Free smoking cessation aids, such as nicotine patches and chewing gum, are a staple of many corporate wellness programs aimed at encouraging employees to kick the habit. But, new research shows that merely offering such aids ...

What makes us well? Diversity, health care, and public transit matter

May 23, 2018
Diverse neighbors. Health centers. Commuter trains. These community attributes, and other key factors, are linked to well-being and quality of life, according to Yale researchers.

Time spent sitting at a screen matters less if you are fit and strong

May 23, 2018
The impact of screen time on cardiovascular disease, cancer incidence and mortality may be greatest in people who have lower levels of grip-strength, fitness and physical activity, according to a study published in the open ...

Widely used e-cigarette flavoring impairs lung function

May 23, 2018
A new study has found that a common e-cigarette flavoring that has chemical characteristics similar to toxic chemicals found in cigarette smoke disrupts an important mechanism of the lungs' antibacterial defense system. The ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.