The physiological effects of cutting-edge science and technology are often unclear until many years after a particular innovation has already become a part of our everyday lives. Such is the case with tablets, those tiny windows to the world that many of us take to bed, thus disrupting our sleep patterns for weeks and sometimes months on end. A new research study suggests that the effects of this behavior may go beyond the mere loss of sleep.
According to a study published in this week's Journal of Neuroscience, being exposed to blue wavelength lights (the kind emitted by computers, tablets, and smartphones) could result in depression. In the paper's abstract, the researchers state:
"Modern environmental lighting conditions have led to excessive exposure to light at night (LAN), and particularly to blue wavelength lights. We hypothesized that nocturnal light exposure (i.e., dim LAN) would induce depressive responses and alter neuronal structure in hamsters…"
To combat this effect, the researchers suggest the use of red lights at night instead. Randy Nelson, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at The Ohio State University and one of the authors of the study said,"Our findings suggest that if we could use red light when appropriate for night-shift workers, it may not have some of the negative effects on their health that white light does,"
Again, we've heard this kind of story before in relation to sleep deprivation related to gadget lighting at night, but the addition of mood-altering effects to the equation could make this an even more serious health concern, particularly for those already suffering from depression due to other factors.
One solution that has quietly gained traction amongst night owls is an app called F.lux, a tool that automatically switches your screen to a softer, reddish-orange hued setting that is a lot easier on the eyes. User reviews of the app are so uniformly enthusiastic it almost seems too good to be true, especially since the app is free.
But I tried the app myself and I can attest that it immediately resulted in better sleep. In fact, after you get accustomed to using it, when you turn it off and see your computer's normal screen setting (which is suddenly like looking at the sun) it becomes obvious that using these devices without such a tool has to be affecting the sleep of millions around the world.
As for the depression claims made by the research group, hamsters aren't humans, so we'll hold out for the human trials before getting too worried. But in the meantime, it wouldn't hurt to play it safe and download F.lux, just in case.