Sleep Apps: Do Blue Light Blocking Apps Actually Help You Sleep?
There’s one thing we know for sure: looking at your phone before bed is a surefire way to mess up your sleep. The reason is simple: blue light, common in all handheld devices, tablets, and computers, is a melatonin inhibitor. As our eyes receive blue light from these screens, they naturally stop the production of this sleep-essential hormone. The results can be that we stay awake for longer than we should, simply because we are telling our eyes that it’s not time to sleep.
Blue-Blockers Address One Physiological Issue for Sleep
“Normally when the sun goes down and the lights turn off, our body releases melatonin, which helps us get a nice restful sleep,” says Lisa Ostrin, a Houston based optometrist. “But when we have all this artificial light on, it’s tricking those photoreceptors into thinking it’s still daytime.”
Enter blue-blocker apps: these are programs specially designed to lessen the blue light being emitted from your device, helping you to sleep easier, and get the rest you deserve. You may have noticed a “night time” setting on your tablet or laptop that works in a very similar way. But do these sleep apps actually work? Do they help?
Yes and no. While a sleep cycle app is not as good as blue blocking glasses (which you can find online, and have been proven to work effectively), they do provide some relief. They can lessen the strain of the blue light from your device, but it doesn’t preclude you getting it from other sources. Indeed, some lamps, televisions, and even car headlights can be sources that you might not think about.
Addressing Other Underlying Causes
Another problem is that it can affect the way that you see an image. Oftentimes these blue light blocking apps do so by lowering the resolution of a picture or video, filtering but also downgrading the image. This can be a problem if you’re trying to watch a streaming service. It also doesn’t address the psychological issues of using your phone or streaming videos before bed: when your mind is engaged, it’s harder to take a break and recognize that it’s time to sleep. This push and pull can lead to some funny behavior that isn’t exactly conducive to a good night’s sleep. Take Brian Zoltowski, a chemistry professor at Texas Methodist University who uses blue light blocking apps, but found that it didn’t change other aspects of his sleep habits.
“So I’m looking at an orange screen watching a video realizing I’m also drinking a cup of coffee,” Zoltowski says. “And it started to make me wonder then why I’m actually trying to decrease the amount of blue light when the caffeine that I’m drinking in my cup of coffee is probably having a larger effect on my sleep quality.”
So as always, the best way to combat these sleep problems is the traditional way — shutting off the electronics. Try developing good sleep habits on your own. While a blue light blocking app can give you some relief, there’s no substitute for reading a book, doing some light meditation, and centering yourself. Plus, you’ll feel better in the morning. That’s something priceless you won’t find on even the best sleep apps.