Light is, well, light. It’s darn well everywhere, but it can be easy to forget that light is a physical thing. I mean, at the end of the day, light is energy, and can even influence the world in the form of heat, or radiation.
For better or for worse, light has a profound effect on our biology. You may have heard that too much TV can affect your sleep, and we all know that our body uses sunlight to create the hormone building block: Vitamin D. However, light goes far beyond sleep and minerals when it comes to health, and the artificial light in our daily environments has some nasty side-effects.
An analysis of 85 studies has linked Artificial Light At Night (ALAN) to increased risk of breast cancer, disturbance of the circadian rhythm, impaired sleep hormone melatonin creation, increased alertness, and chronic exposure to artificial bright light at night may have negative effects on psychological, cardiovascular, and metabolic functions.
Furthermore, higher wavelength lights have a greater damaging effect than lower wavelength light, despite the brightness. Basically, the high frequency blue light found in most LED and florescent lights is much more harmful than lower frequency light from halogen bulbs or special red lights.
LED (light emitting diode) lights, which are quickly replacing compact florescent (CFL) lights, have been shown to cause retina damage in the eyes. These lights can cause necrosis (cell death) in the retina and The American Medical Association put out an official statement warning of the danger of LED street lamps.
Our metabolism also follows light cycles, and growth in mammals normally occurs during the summer, partially due to greater food abundance but also due to increased light exposure. The mTOR sensor in our cells responds to light by promoting growth and inhibiting cellular recycling of damaged cells. However, we also need a period of lower light in the winter for our AMPk sensor to signal energy conservation and recycling of dead cells. With high amounts of light from artificial sources, mTOR stays active for too long, and while growth may sound good, over-activation of the mTOR pathway is associated with increased cancer risk and decreased lifespan.
So how do we optimize our environment to decrease exposure to “bad” light and also take advantage of therapeutic effects of good light?
- Lower Your Blue Light Exposure at Night: The two biggest factors in light being harmful are: 1. Too high intensity, which includes all LED lights, florescent lights, and screens such as your computer and TV, and 2. too much light at night, the later the worse. Our biology expects light to eventually and gradually dissipate, as the sun goes down. When this happens, the hormonal process that controls our circadian rhythm kicks off. When you use artificial light past sundown, it throws off this system. If possible, avoid using bright screens and lights as much as possible after sundown, and especially in the last 2 hours before bed.
- Blue Light Blocking Glasses: These are a cool little biohacking tool that can effectively solve the issue of too much blue light exposure without making many other changes. In short, companies are making glasses that block out the harmful blue light that many LED, digital, and florescent screens give off. There is a range of options here, from custom glasses that fit your unique sensitivity to light, or you can simply use a pair of gas-station sunglasses. The issue with gas-station sunglasses is that it can get pretty dark when the purpose is to block artificial light in indoor situations, but you can always stick with a lighter orange tint. Companies that make great blue light blocking glasses are those such as Gunnar, which make shades for competitive video gamers. Their shades are very stylish and work well. You can find them on Amazon or on their home website at www.gunnar.com.
- Irlen Syndrome: An estimated half, and likely more, of the population suffers from a condition that causes them to lose energy when exposed to bright light. Basically, the brain cannot easily process high frequency light, such as that of florescent lights and LEDs, and wastes energy on it. The result can be as minor as small headaches, and as severe as full blown ADD. However, you can find out easily whether you have this condition, and fixing it isn’t hard either. The Irlen institute offers free testing to discover if you have Irlen syndrome, and can also make custom glasses for you that block the specific light frequencies that affect you most severely. Visit https://irlen.com/get-tested/ to get tested, and you can use the rest of the irlen.com website to look into glasses or other options. Using the other techniques for reducing blue light outlined in this article will help as well.
- Morning Sungazing: In too high amounts, sunlight can be damaging to our vision, but in small quantities it can be beneficial. With that said, never look directly at the sun, you will burn your corneas. What I’m proposing here is simply going outside as early as possible after the sun comes up, and facing in the direction of the sun. Why? for one thing, it helps to set your circadian rhythm for the day, which will in-turn help you sleep at night. For two, sunlight has a blood cleansing effect through the eyes and skin. A simple 20 minutes spent in the morning, either meditating, reading, or working while outside and facing the direction of the sun, can greatly improve your health, mood, and energy.
- Sunlight Exposure: This is obviously tied to the previous tip, but involves exposing your skin. We all know sunlight helps our body create Vitamin D, and supplemental Vitamin D has become very popular recently. However, Vitamin D is more like a hormone than a vitamin, and supplements appear to cause problems that do not occur when you get Vitamin D naturally. Yes, over-exposure to sunlight can have complications and increase the risk of skin cancer, but the chemicals in most sunblock and sunscreen are even more carcinogenic. Second of all, you don’t need to fry yourself. Most people get extremely little sunlight exposure due to a generally indoor lifestyle. Sunlight helps to boost human growth hormone and testosterone. Furthermore, if you can, expose your genitals to sunlight. Yep, you read that right, but think about it. We use sunlight to make the building blocks for hormones, and our sexual organs are the apex center of the production of, well, hormones. Especially in men, that area of the body produces more testosterone in the sun than elsewhere. If you lack high fences, a nudist beach, or understanding neighbors, your back produces Vitamin D and hormones the next most efficiently. Overall though, even exposure to your whole body is the best.
- Use Red Light in The Evening: I own a lightbulb set called Hue by Phillips. What these special lightbulbs do is allow me to change their color using an iphone app. Now, I’ve owned these since before I delved into biohacking, and they are far from perfect. In fact, they are LEDs and at normal colors, are probably more harmful than regular bulbs. However, they do offer a distinct advantage in that I can change them to a red color at night. Red light is the least abrasive visible light, and helps the body properly initiate it’s circadian rhythm. I’ve told you to lower or eliminate blue light at night, but you still need to be able to see. I strongly suggest getting a set of red lights you can use from sundown onward.
- Use Blue-light Lowering Computer Software: Many of us use phones and computers often, possibly even for work. I don’t know about you, but I can think of many a late night glued to a screen for a project. You can reduce the harm of screens with software that changes the screen color to more gentle, amber colors. The best program available is called iristech. It uses your computer’s video card to control brightness, reduce monitor flicker, and even adjusts your screen based on the position of the sun during the day. If you do not have access to iristech due to device restrictions, the google chrome store offers many free alternatives that work with that browser. Whatever your device, someone has probably designed an app. Just search for a “lowering blue light” app for your gear.
- Don’t Over-use Sunglasses: I know, I know, wasn’t I just suggesting you pick up a pair of shades to wear indoors? Yes, the key word being “indoors.” Outside, on the other hand, overusing sunglasses prevents your body from producing proper hormones for sleep later, and even hinders your ability to tan. Yep, wearing sunglasses is bad for your skin, why? Your eyes register how bright the sun is and a signal from the optic nerve tells your skin to produce melanin. This is your body’s personal sun-screen, which allows you to tan and helps to protect against UV radiation.
- Get Into Photobiomodulation: Photobiomodu-what-now? Photobiomodulation simply means using light, provided by fancy biohacking devices, as a form of therapy or performance booster. All sorts of great devices exist these days to let you use light to lower joint pain, lower blood sugar, increase recovery, and reduce inflammation. Olympic athletes have even begun using red light to increase time to exhaustion. One particularly beneficial light therapy is the use of near-infrared wavelength light. Near-infrared penetrates the skin, and at the high range, gets deep into our tissue where it causes a strong release of nitric oxide and stimulates ATP production by the mitochondria. Basically, it’s good for energy, detox, and cellular vitality. Far-infrared has similar effects, though not as powerful, and can be found in certain heat lamps as well as infrared saunas. Far infrared also provides the benefits of heat-shock proteins which are responsible for the benefits or general sauna use, but at lower heats. Photobiomodulation should not be done excessively, and depending on the light wavelength, you should stick to 20 minutes per day or so of use. One great device for increasing testosterone and getting the benefits of sunlight exposure, without having to go outside, is the Joovv light. Joovv offers some great tutorials about light therapy, and their devices are very effective and popular. I think they also recently released a very affordable, portable Joovv device. You can check out their stuff http://joovv.com.
- Analaysis of 85 studies on health effects of artificial light at night with conclusions of negative effects.
- LEDs cause retina damage
- American Medical Association warning about danger of LED lights
- Light regulates the mTOR pathway
- Gunnar Glasses Amazon link
- Gunnar Blue Light Blocking Glasses Website at http://gunnar.com
- Irlen website for self-testing light sensitivity http://irlen.com/get-tested/
- Irlen site for general information and other resources regarding irlen syndrome http://irlen.com
- Iristech blue light blocking computer software at http://iristech.com
- Olympic athletes using photobiomodulation for better performance
- Joovv photobiomodulation devices http://joovv.com
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