Why the light from your smartphone is keeping you up at night, and what to do about it

Takeaway: Exposing your eyes to too much blue light (from your smartphone, tablet, or computer) before bed is detrimental to your sleep. The fix: pick up a pair of blue-blocking sunglasses, limit your exposure to blue light before bed, and ritualize shutting off your devices past a certain time every night.

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes, 12s.

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Exposure to blue light affects your sleep

Exposure to blue light before you go to bed significantly affects your sleep quality, because it prevents your body from releasing melatonin, a chemical in your body that helps you sleep. Unfortunately, all of those electronic devices you use before bed (your tablet, cellphone, computer, and TV included) bombard you with an incredible amount of blue light, which can significantly hamper your sleep quality if you’re not careful.

When I chatted with my buddy Ari about sleeping hacking the other week, one of his top suggestions for something I should experiment with surprised me: that I should wear a cheap pair of blue light-blocking sunglasses a couple of hours before I went to bed.

I was a bit skeptical, so I decided to wear them two hours before bed for a few weeks to see if they produced any results (besides making me look like a doofus). But back to that experiment in a second.

Pretty much every study that has analyzed blue-blocking sunglasses has found them to be incredibly effective in helping you sleep. Take these two that I stumbled upon recently:

  1. One study had participants wear “either blue-blocking (amber) or yellow-tinted (blocking ultraviolet only) safety glasses for 3 h prior to sleep”, and “[o]nly individuals who reported sleep difficulty were included in the study”. Even though the study used a small sample size, what they found was incredible: participants who wore the blue-blocking glasses observed more than a 50% increase in the quality of their sleep, and they were 40% happier after they woke up.1
  2. Another study measured the actual melatonin levels produced by participants who wore blue-blocking sunglasses and regular sunglasses (for comparison). Participants who wore regular sunglasses had their melatonin levels drop 46% (not a good thing), while participants who wore the blue-blocking glasses had a 6% increase in melatonin production (a very good thing). But the results are even better than they sound: participants wearing the blue-blocking glasses were blasted with 25% brighter light compared to the control group!2

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Here’s what to do about it

In hacking around with my sleep, I noticed something fascinating: I could literally use all of my devices up until the moment I went to sleep without any adverse effects, as long as I wore my blue-blocking sunglasses. I usually don’t like to stare at shiny screens late into the night, but for the sake of this experiment I was able to do so without any adverse effects with blue-blocking sunglasses on.

It might sound crazy, but blue-blocking sunglasses will help you fall asleep faster, and then sleep better throughout the night. You’ll look like a total doofus wearing sunglasses indoors, but if you want to look at bright, blue light-emitting screens late into the night, you should throw on a pair of blue-blocking sunglasses so you don’t compromise your sleep. And you can order a pair for $10 off of Amazon, so you really have no excuse. The Harvard Medical School recommends avoiding blue light 2-3 hours before you go to bed.3

Here are a few other ideas on how to eliminate blue light from your nightly ritual, and how to use blue light to your advantage:

  • Limit your exposure to energy-efficient lighting before bed. In addition to the LED screens in your electronics, energy-efficient lighting emits a lot of blue light, which can also compromise your sleep.
  • Expose yourself to a lot of blue light during the day. Exposing yourself to blue light during the workday has been shown to boost your alertness, performance, and sleep quality.4
  • Ritualize shutting off your devices past a certain time. When I’m not experimenting around with different routines, I’ve created a habit of turning my phone on airplane mode between 8pm and 8am (I wake up at 5:30). This forces me to be more mindful and slow down before bed, but it also has the added benefit of helping me sleep better.
  • Download f.lux (free). F.lux won’t completely eliminate how much blue light your computer monitor emits, but it will change the colour temperature of your screen after the sun sets in your location, which will reduce the amount of blue light your screen emits, helping you sleep better.
  • Invert the colours on your iPhone/iPad. This will make your screen darker, so it emits less white and blue light. Navigate to Settings -> General -> Accessibility -> Accessibility Shortcut -> Invert Colors. Now, whenever you triple-tap your home button, the colors on your device will invert.

The bottom line: exposing your eyes to too much blue light before bed is detrimental to your sleep. The fix: pick up a pair of blue-blocking sunglasses, limit your exposure to blue light before bed, and ritualize shutting off your devices past a certain time every night.

Purple smartphone image source.


  1. Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20030543 

  2. Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16842544 

  3. Source: http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Health_Letter/2012/May/blue-light-has-a-dark-side/ 

  4. Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18815716 

  • Daniel

    I actually have a pair of these, although I bought them when I used to play a lot more video games and they were labeled a gaming glasses. Yellow tinted to reduce eye strain from looking at a screen. I wear them at work during the day now. Luckily I have a back offce where nobody can see me wear them haha

    • Haha that’s funny, I ran across a few websites that marketed the glasses as gaming glassed when I was researching the article. Sounds like a good way to make a quick buck, actually..

      1. Buy a bunch of pairs of blue-blocking sunglasses off of Amazon
      2. Market them as gaming glasses
      3. ???
      4. Profit!

  • Daniel

    I actually have a pair of these, although I bought them when I used to play a lot more video games and they were labeled a gaming glasses. Yellow tinted to reduce eye strain from looking at a screen. I wear them at work during the day now. Luckily I have a back offce where nobody can see me wear them haha

    • Haha that’s funny, I ran across a few websites that marketed the glasses as gaming glassed when I was researching the article. Sounds like a good way to make a quick buck, actually..

      1. Buy a bunch of pairs of blue-blocking sunglasses off of Amazon
      2. Market them as gaming glasses
      3. ???
      4. Profit!

  • Scott

    You find it annoying to toggle the Invert Colors switch on your mobile devices. Do this:

    Scroll to the bottom of the Accessibility settings. Set the “Accessibility Shortcut” to “Invert Colors.” Then, when you triple-click the home button, the colors will invert. Easy breezy.

    Thank you for this article. I’m ordering the glasses today.

  • Scott

    You find it annoying to toggle the Invert Colors switch on your mobile devices. Do this:

    Scroll to the bottom of the Accessibility settings. Set the “Accessibility Shortcut” to “Invert Colors.” Then, when you triple-click the home button, the colors will invert. Easy breezy.

    Thank you for this article. I’m ordering the glasses today.

    • Great tip, Scott, never knew about this one.

    • Terrific tip Scott, just updated the article to reflect it! Thanks!

  • Thanks for this. I had no idea it could make such a difference.

    • Absolutely, I noticed a huge difference in just one day, it sounds crazy on the surface, but the glasses work incredibly well!

  • Thanks for this. I had no idea it could make such a difference.

    • Absolutely, I noticed a huge difference in just one day, it sounds crazy on the surface, but the glasses work incredibly well!

  • Just wanted to stop by and say you have a beautiful site (I’ve already been lecturing people about blue light, installed f.lux, but you provided much more information than I knew about…now I know why I like going outside at noon to look at the blue sky). Especially the Guidebook section.

    Feel obligated to buy something for providing me with so much viewing pleasure. I’ll have to check out your new coaching program once it comes out.

    • Thanks a lot my friend! You’re welcome to pitch in a few bucks if you want, but you absolutely don’t have to :) Just having you here reading and commenting on the site is enough. Cheers!

  • Just wanted to stop by and say you have a beautiful site (I’ve already been lecturing people about blue light, installed f.lux, but you provided much more information than I knew about…now I know why I like going outside at noon to look at the blue sky). Especially the Guidebook section.

    Feel obligated to buy something for providing me with so much viewing pleasure. I’ll have to check out your new coaching program once it comes out.

    • Thanks a lot my friend! You’re welcome to pitch in a few bucks if you want, but you absolutely don’t have to :) Just having you here reading and commenting on the site is enough. Cheers!

  • I had heard about the red LED lights affecting sleep, but like most people – the thought of turning everything off is a pain in the ass so I just forgot about it. I love the idea about shutting the laptop and phone off for an hour or two before bed. That’s something that interests me greatly.

    Saying that, I love falling asleep every night while watching a movie… it works for me… or maybe the movies I pick are just boring? Haha!

    • Haha! Whatever works, right?

      Even if you do want to fall asleep to a movie, the glasses look dorky, but they work incredibly well ;) I do love my nighttime shutoff ritual, though. It took my mind a week or two to adapt to it, but after that it became the perfect routine to transition from awake to sleep.

  • I had heard about the red LED lights affecting sleep, but like most people – the thought of turning everything off is a pain in the ass so I just forgot about it. I love the idea about shutting the laptop and phone off for an hour or two before bed. That’s something that interests me greatly.

    Saying that, I love falling asleep every night while watching a movie… it works for me… or maybe the movies I pick are just boring? Haha!

    • Haha! Whatever works, right?

      Even if you do want to fall asleep to a movie, the glasses look dorky, but they work incredibly well ;) I do love my nighttime shutoff ritual, though. It took my mind a week or two to adapt to it, but after that it became the perfect routine to transition from awake to sleep.

  • I’ve been using Flux for the last couple of days I am not so thrilled with it to be honest. The screen becomes way to yellow when the timing kicks in. It looks so unnatural that it is distracting.

    Awesome idea about the glass though, will buy a pair right away.

    • Let me know how they work! I’ve had incredible results so far.

      That’s too bad about f.lux. I definitely notice the difference for the first couple of minutes (and if I remember right, the first couple of weeks after I installed the app), but after that I hardly noticed a change. Do you work a lot with designing stuff/editing images? Do you think your eyes are just more sensitive to color fluctuations?

      • Yup, I do quite a lot of design work lately but I don’t think that is the issue here. I think I need to play with the settings of the app a little more. Maybe that will solve the problem.

    • Scott

      f.lux, at least on the Mac, has settings for different lighting under “Lighting at night.” Change those, and you’ll change the color temperature (yellowness) of your screen.

      • Scott, thanks for the suggestion. I am a Windows guy (weird, I know) though, but I will check out that setting on my laptop and see what difference does it make.

  • I’ve been using Flux for the last couple of days I am not so thrilled with it to be honest. The screen becomes way to yellow when the timing kicks in. It looks so unnatural that it is distracting.

    Awesome idea about the glass though, will buy a pair right away.

    • Let me know how they work! I’ve had incredible results so far.

      That’s too bad about f.lux. I definitely notice the difference for the first couple of minutes (and if I remember right, the first couple of weeks after I installed the app), but after that I hardly noticed a change. Do you work a lot with designing stuff/editing images? Do you think your eyes are just more sensitive to color fluctuations?

      • Yup, I do quite a lot of design work lately but I don’t think that is the issue here. I think I need to play with the settings of the app a little more. Maybe that will solve the problem.

    • Scott

      f.lux, at least on the Mac, has settings for different lighting under “Lighting at night.” Change those, and you’ll change the color temperature (yellowness) of your screen.

      • Scott, thanks for the suggestion. I am a Windows guy (weird, I know) though, but I will check out that setting on my laptop and see what difference does it make.

  • I’ll have to get a pair soon. Thank you for your well researched post. I wonder how many people are not getting enough sleep due to this issue.

    • My guess is hundreds of millions! Haha, and with so many smartphones and tablets out there, I think the problem is only going to get worse. Next up: blue-blocking contact lenses??

  • I’ll have to get a pair soon. Thank you for your well researched post. I wonder how many people are not getting enough sleep due to this issue.

    • My guess is hundreds of millions! Haha, and with so many smartphones and tablets out there, I think the problem is only going to get worse. Next up: blue-blocking contact lenses??

  • Chris,
    This is a simple, but GREAT, article. I love F.lux, and would hug its creators if I met them/him/her.

    I am continuously surprised by two things when I come to your blog:

    1. How much — and well — you write!
    2. How similar we think.

    PS:
    I glanced at the books you’re “currently reading”. Will you please give me your opinion on each one? I’ve not read any of them (except a summary of the Icarus Deception).

    • Thanks so much man, that means a lot!

      Unfortunately I don’t have much to say about the books so far, since I just started them last week (and haven’t even started reading Start With Why yet!) I’m furthest along in Decisive, and I’m gaining some incredible insights from it so far. Have you read the book Switch, also by the Heath brothers? It’s similar in format and style. Very good so far.

      • Cool!

        Regarding the books:
        — I see. I’ve read Made to Stick. And I’ve read summary notes of Switch. They recycle a bit of the same material in both books, such as:

        –> Give people smaller glasses to drink from / small pop corn bowls to make them drink/eat less.

        Those guys are masters of format. I am definitely going to copy it when I write my next book.

        • Absolutely, it’s pretty terrific. I’m about half way through right now and highly recommend it. Great read, and it’s incredibly practical at the same time.

  • Chris,
    This is a simple, but GREAT, article. I love F.lux, and would hug its creators if I met them/him/her.

    I am continuously surprised by two things when I come to your blog:

    1. How much — and well — you write!
    2. How similar we think.

    PS:
    I glanced at the books you’re “currently reading”. Will you please give me your opinion on each one? I’ve not read any of them (except a summary of the Icarus Deception).

    • Thanks so much man, that means a lot!

      Unfortunately I don’t have much to say about the books so far, since I just started them last week (and haven’t even started reading Start With Why yet!) I’m furthest along in Decisive, and I’m gaining some incredible insights from it so far. Have you read the book Switch, also by the Heath brothers? It’s similar in format and style. Very good so far.

      • Cool!

        Regarding the books:
        — I see. I’ve read Made to Stick. And I’ve read summary notes of Switch. They recycle a bit of the same material in both books, such as:

        –> Give people smaller glasses to drink from / small pop corn bowls to make them drink/eat less.

        Those guys are masters of format. I am definitely going to copy it when I write my next book.

        • Absolutely, it’s pretty terrific. I’m about half way through right now and highly recommend it. Great read, and it’s incredibly practical at the same time.

  • This is my second time reading on blue light affecting sleep, but first time hearing on wearing those glasses. It’s SO hard for me to stop all my gadget activities 2-3 hours before bed, and I’ve been having a hell lot of trouble sleeping. Thanks for this man, I’m going to be using this trick

    On a side note, kudos that you’re reading Simon Sinek’s Start With Why. I was recently introduced to this man by a fellow blogger and I love this dude! I’ve bought his Leaders East Last, but I’m thinking of getting Start With Why as well. Can’t wait to read. Check out his talk on EO Alchemy if you haven’t already.

    • Downloading his talk as we speak, thanks for the recommendation! Haven’t started his book yet–I’m planning on finishing the other two today–but I’m diving head-first into it tomorrow :) Have you jumped into Leaders Eat Last yet? Looks interesting!

      • It’s still on its way to my homeland Singapore. :D

        • Cool, you gotta let me know how it is when you get it!

  • This is my second time reading on blue light affecting sleep, but first time hearing on wearing those glasses. It’s SO hard for me to stop all my gadget activities 2-3 hours before bed, and I’ve been having a hell lot of trouble sleeping. Thanks for this man, I’m going to be using this trick

    On a side note, kudos that you’re reading Simon Sinek’s Start With Why. I was recently introduced to this man by a fellow blogger and I love this dude! I’ve bought his Leaders East Last, but I’m thinking of getting Start With Why as well. Can’t wait to read. Check out his talk on EO Alchemy if you haven’t already.

    • Downloading his talk as we speak, thanks for the recommendation! Haven’t started his book yet–I’m planning on finishing the other two today–but I’m diving head-first into it tomorrow :) Have you jumped into Leaders Eat Last yet? Looks interesting!

      • It’s still on its way to my homeland Singapore. :D

        • Cool, you gotta let me know how it is when you get it!

  • I’ve noticed how bad smartphone light is too. I wondered if there was a difference between it and regular light and now you’ve enlightened me (pun intended). But on a serious note, I’ve tried to limit my smartphone usage at night simply because I know it has such an adverse affect on my sleeping patterns. And sleep is something i”ve been working on a lot lately. So far I haven’t needed to get any glasses or anything like that. I find that if i need to use my smartphone, I either tilt the screen away from my face and use it for a short period of time or just let whatever I was going to do pass and pick it up the next day. So far so good.

    • Haha terrible pun.

      Good to hear! Over the last few weeks I’ve started a new ritual of putting my phone and iPad on airplane mode, which has considerably lowered how much I use them before bed and when I wake up (so I can be more mindful in the morning). That combined with these glasses has helped a ton.

  • I’ve noticed how bad smartphone light is too. I wondered if there was a difference between it and regular light and now you’ve enlightened me (pun intended). But on a serious note, I’ve tried to limit my smartphone usage at night simply because I know it has such an adverse affect on my sleeping patterns. And sleep is something i”ve been working on a lot lately. So far I haven’t needed to get any glasses or anything like that. I find that if i need to use my smartphone, I either tilt the screen away from my face and use it for a short period of time or just let whatever I was going to do pass and pick it up the next day. So far so good.

    • Haha terrible pun.

      Good to hear! Over the last few weeks I’ve started a new ritual of putting my phone and iPad on airplane mode, which has considerably lowered how much I use them before bed and when I wake up (so I can be more mindful in the morning). That combined with these glasses has helped a ton.

  • Great post. I’m going on Amazon to pick up a pair of blue sunglasses asap. And will have to make a few adjustments to my habits whilst I’m at it. Great info here. Thanks.

    • Awesome man, thanks for reading! You’ll feel the effects the first night, it’s pretty incredible

  • Great post. I’m going on Amazon to pick up a pair of blue sunglasses asap. And will have to make a few adjustments to my habits whilst I’m at it. Great info here. Thanks.

    • Awesome man, thanks for reading! You’ll feel the effects the first night, it’s pretty incredible

  • David Axe

    Great article–one thing I’d like to point out for android users out there is the application Twilight, which is basically a f.lux application for your smartphone.

    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.urbandroid.lux

    • Looks awesome! Apps like this make me wish the iPhone were way more open..

  • David Axe

    Great article–one thing I’d like to point out for android users out there is the application Twilight, which is basically a f.lux application for your smartphone.

    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.urbandroid.lux

    • Looks awesome! Apps like this make me wish the iPhone were way more open..

  • Tomas

    Very educational Chris. I never knew about the blue light blocking glasses. I am literally ordering a pair now.

  • Tomas

    Very educational Chris. I never knew about the blue light blocking glasses. I am literally ordering a pair now.

  • I wear glasses all the time so I tried looking for a pair of blue-blocking glasses that could fit over my normal glasses.

    I ended up with the, “Sun Shield Fit Over Sunglasses with Blue Blocker HD Driving Lens & Spring Hinges – Fit Over Prescription Glasses” but they are actually sunglasses so everything is much darker.

    Although I feel like a complete dork wearing them, I do feel like they help with eye strain at night.

    I will still be on the lookout for non-sunglass blue blocking glasses that can go over prescription glasses. Boy, what a mouthful!

    • Haha! Let us know if you find a good pair, I bet we aren’t the only ones with that problem :)

      I think with this technique you kinda have to embrace your inner dork. Us dorks have to stick together, after all..

      • I’m thinking these Uvex S0360X will do.

  • I wear glasses all the time so I tried looking for a pair of blue-blocking glasses that could fit over my normal glasses.

    I ended up with the, “Sun Shield Fit Over Sunglasses with Blue Blocker HD Driving Lens & Spring Hinges – Fit Over Prescription Glasses” but they are actually sunglasses so everything is much darker.

    Although I feel like a complete dork wearing them, I do feel like they help with eye strain at night.

    I will still be on the lookout for non-sunglass blue blocking glasses that can go over prescription glasses. Boy, what a mouthful!

    • Haha! Let us know if you find a good pair, I bet we aren’t the only ones with that problem :)

      I think with this technique you kinda have to embrace your inner dork. Us dorks have to stick together, after all..

      • I’m thinking these Uvex S0360X will do.

  • Scott

    For anyone with a Mac, you can invert the colors with a keyboard shortcut to quickly get white text on a black background at night.

    3 steps:
    1. Enable the shortcut
    System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Accessibility > check the “Invert colors” box
    2. Use it every night
    control + option + command + 8
    3. Donate to this blog
    “Pitch In” on title bar at top of page

  • Scott

    For anyone with a Mac, you can invert the colors with a keyboard shortcut to quickly get white text on a black background at night.

    3 steps:
    1. Enable the shortcut
    System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Accessibility > check the “Invert colors” box
    2. Use it every night
    control + option + command + 8
    3. Donate to this blog
    “Pitch In” on title bar at top of page

  • Patrick

    Are there any good blue light reduction options available for IOS devices?

  • paul aiello

    try sleepzzz.ca for resources and products

  • DaphneY

    I just tried a clip-on blue light blocking glasses 3 months ago. It’s really with high quality. It seems like I wore two pairs of glasses. Actually, it’s not heavy. And it makes mu computer screen more comfortable to look at. I just searched “taime clip on blue light blocking glasses” in Google and I got into http://www.taimeopt.com/
    It claims to cut off 97% of blue light. As far as I experience, this is good. Good for work, good for sleep.

  • Lisa B

    I am not smart or brave enough to jail break my iphone and install f.lux through cydia but I just change settings to greyscale and don’t invert the colours if I want to watch a show to fall asleep to.
    But if reading yes I invert colours. Greyscale is a nice option that solves to blue light problem but doesn’t mess up your colour scheme.

  • there are some newer lenses on the market that are clear and block 99.9% of harmful blue violet light like blue light defense ( clear) , blue light shield(clear) , ophthalmic blue guard(Clear) , prevensia (purple hu), Sharper image(clear) , and blue tech ( slight yellow color) you can have your prescription put in these too.

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