Scientific Nutrition Update 31: Blue Blockers

This episode was inspired by Dr. William Lagakos of Calories Proper and his work on circadian rhythm and blue light.  Basically I had to determine whether there was enough evidence in the literature to justify my wearing these incredibly ugly glasses.

Script (Remember I ad-lib and go off script a lot):

For today’s episode we are going to talk about blue blockers.  I was inspired to do this episode by Dr. William Lagakos of Calories Proper.  Specifically what I am going to try to look at is whether or not the literature is convincing enough to make me put my blue blocker glasses back on.  Now those of you who are seeing this podcast either on Facebook or YouTube, or even on my website, you see these stylish glasses right? These are my blue-blockers, and I use them to block all blue light and ensure that no one is attracted to me anytime soon.  For those who cannot see these are orange safety glasses, which I picked up as part of a personal experiment into these things. In this episode we are going to review the literature and see if it is convincing enough to convince me these are worth wearing.


So what is melatonin? Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland that is most well known for its importance in inducing sleep.  It is one of the most important modulators of our circadian rhythm. Now the reason melatonin is important for us here is that blue light seems to interfere with our body’s ability to produce more melatonin.  This is why Apple added that Night Shift to the iPhone, the idea was the less blue light that was emitted the less melatonin production would be interrupted. This is the same reason, people including me wear these glasses.  In order to determine if this is worth it we need to get a handle on what degree of effect blue light actually has on melatonin production.


There was a great study done that actually compared different wavelengths of light and whether or not they significantly inhibited melatonin production and it does seem to demonstrate that the shorter wavelengths, such as those in the blue, and also the green area seem to have the greatest suppression effect on melatonin levels with a maximal suppression of 81%.  That seems to me to suggest that minimizing exposure to this kind of light near bed might be a near necessity for circadian health. The question we now need to look at figuring out is exactly what effect these beautiful blue-blockers actually have.


The literature actually seems pretty consistent on this point, with the conclusion seeming to be that blue blockers do help with sleep.  Looking first at their ability to ensure melatonin is still produced is a great article from the Journal of Pineal research that showed blue blockers actually contributed to a significant increase in melatonin levels compared to baseline, and the grey lenses actually showed a significant decrease.  This suggests again that the blue part of the spectrum is what we have to worry about, and that blue blockers are likely a useful tool for helping protect melatonin levels.


Focusing more directly on sleep there’s a few useful trials we have to choose from.  There was a study done in 2009 that has some interesting effects which actually helped me understand my own experiences with these.  They found that initially subjective sleep quality at first actually got worse for the group wearing these amber glasses, and then started getting better.  Now why this was interesting to me is when I first tried these the first couple nights they worked great and I was out like a light, and then I found my time to sleep gradually lengthening until about the sixth day where I called the experiment and gave up.  This suggests to me that I need to do a more detailed self-experiment on this going for at least a month to determine their effectiveness for me.


There was another study that looked at the usage of these glasses in people suffering from delayed sleep phase disorder and found that these glasses served to improve sleep onset by shifting the circadian clock, but the results were non-significant.  Thus we cannot draw strong conclusions from this study, but it does serve to help strengthen some of what we may be thinking about these glasses.


Now there was an interesting article I came across on Calories Proper that I found quite interesting.  It’s not totally relevant to this topic but it is interesting enough that I wanted to share it with you guys, basically there was an experiment that looked at light therapy as a potential treatment for sexual dysfunction in men, and they found that light exposure can suppress melatonin and as such help increase testosterone production.  The experiment basically blasted the subjects with a whole bunch of light right after they woke up and they found significantly increased testosterone levels. This was fascinating to me, because it shows how interconnected all of these endocrine pathways are, and it also convinced me to move that light therapy box I’ve been looking at purchasing way up on my shopping list.


So in conclusion, blue light is probably bad for your sleep, and these ugly glasses are one possibly conclusion.  Try them out and if you want a more thorough look at circadian rhythms and health make sure you check out Dr. William Lagakos’ work.  I am going to try a longer experiment with these glasses, and I’ll let you guys know what I find out.

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2 thoughts on “Scientific Nutrition Update 31: Blue Blockers

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