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Gaming Your Brain Into Being Okay With Electronics At Night

You know the old saying about how you can’t have your cake and eat it too? Well, it seems like there are an awful lot of people who just don’t buy it, and the latest example of that comes in the form of those who absolutely, positively understand that using electronic devices late at night is going to wreak havoc with their ability to sleep, and instead of turning the darn things off, they’ve gone and found themselves a workaround.

Science has shown us without question that the blue light that is emitted by smart phones, tablets and other electronics sends a clear message to our brains that it is time to be wide awake, in the exact same way that the morning sun does. As Randy Nelson, who is professor and chair at the Department of Neuroscience at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center explains, “Because of the three to four billion years of evolution of light during the day and darkness at night, our body clocks are not expecting light at night.” When our brains see light – especially the specific blue wavelength of light that is emitted by electronic devices and the sun - where it isn’t supposed to be, it gets confused, so sleep experts have come up with an elegant solution – don’t use them before bed. Seems simple enough. But there are so many of us out here that just don’t want to stop playing candy crush or checking our work email that a few enterprising entrepreneurs have taken a close look at why the brain works that way so that they could provide us with a way to use our devices and still sleep.

These entrepreneurs have figured out that the reason why it is specifically blue light that keeps us awake is that our eyes have special cells that respond to that type of light by suppressing the production of melatonin. Those very same cells have absolutely no problem with red or orange toned lights, so by coming up with a way of filtering out the blue but leaving in the red and orange, we are able to continue to stare at our screens, although our experience will be slightly different. Thus a piece of software known as f.lux, which is available for both Windows and Macintosh products, adjusts the monitor of your screen as the evening wears on, slowly filtering out more and more blue light the later it gets. Though there is no doubt that the visuals change, with full color eliminated and orange hues becoming the norm, the program is adjustable, so users tend to slowly wean themselves off of the blue light until they get used to the new view, and at the same time they get much better sleep.

The program is immensely popular and has been downloaded over 10 million times in the last five years, though it is not available on the App store for Apple products. There are also blue-blocking glasses that provide the same optics, and some actually allow clearer delineation of shapes than the f.lux program does.

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