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Red Before Bed: Better for Your Head
August 7, 2013 7:58 AM   Subscribe

The night shift is a reality for about 10% of the American labor force, offering both opportunity for rumination and a panoply of health problems. One of them may be easily mitigated, though: new research indicates that the color of light one is exposed to at night can affect one's mood.
posted by psoas (26 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
OK, so - are they actually trying to adjust the hamster's actual cycle? Or are they just saying "here's some light at night" and still having them on the regular day cycle. Then yes, blue light is gonna fuck you up - it's more stimulating and energetic. If you have to try to maintain a normal daytime routine while having blue light around you it's gonna disrupt shit.

If, however, you are trying to be PRODUCTIVE at night and get sleep during the day, then my guess is it's better to have that blue light at night and red/or as little light as possible during the day, this would help switch you to a night-cycle that's more consistent and you're getting the light cycle you need.

I don't buy it for night-shift workers. For day-time workers, however, it makes sense. Calmer lower energy at night to help be more restful.
posted by symbioid at 8:12 AM on August 7, 2013


I can definitely believe this having used f.lux for quite a while now and really noticing the difference.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:21 AM on August 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


So Roxanne... should put on the red light?

Second for f.lux btw - it's been a big reason for my shift to tablet in the evening. Well that and I'm too lazy to sit upright.
posted by SoFlo1 at 8:26 AM on August 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


I work 7PM to 7AM. There are things I LOVE about it. The world at 3AM is wonderfully quiet, beautiful. When I travel overseas I can shift into the daytime without any jet lag for some reason. The pay is significantly better. The work is still stressful but I often have more time to talk with people who really need someone to listen to them.

Then there's the things I hate. My sleep schedules are different every day. It's all over the place and that is my norm. Codes (I work in a hospital) seem to always happen between 4AM and 7AM when I'm at my most tired. Knowing this makes me more stressed at those times because I'm anxious something is going to happen and I need to be ON. And no one else in the world has any empathy for your weirdo schedule. Lawnmowers and construction are always going on somewhere while I'm trying to sleep. People in your life who know you have these weird hours get angry because you need to sleep when they want to plan something.

My city has a huge medical complex and one fun thing is there are happy hours near the med center for shift workers. It is wonderful fun to have a margarita at 7:30AM with breakfast tacos and your coworkers. But I worry we frighten other people who watch us mucking it up in the early hours with alcohol in our scrubs. I want to tell them hey don't worry, we're not going INTO work, we just got out, but that's probably not reassuring either.

Fun as they are happy hours at 7AM arn't really putting me in the camp of healthy behaviors either. Like sleep, that is all over the map too.
posted by dog food sugar at 8:29 AM on August 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


Then of course, there's the jobs that rotate you between day and night. All the fun of adjusting your body to a new sleep schedule, except instead of one time, it happens every week.

Mine, I start on night shifts, then get a 60 hour window to get used to being up during the daytime for a few days, then a 48 hours off to turn back around for a few more nights, and then another 60 hours to flip back over to days. But then after that, they give me a whole week off. Having a semi-vacation every 28 days almost makes up for the rest of it. Almost.
posted by radwolf76 at 8:30 AM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is timely, as I just finished working my midnight to eight shift and should probably be asleep by now.
I have almost always been relatively nocturnal - the swing shift is disruptive, but relatively non-traumatic for me, though I have definitely noted differences in my metabolism and functioning (it's like having jet-lag all the time. For nine years.)

I can't easily control the lighting of my environment, but my co-workers can and and experiment with various lighting schemes and might find this intriguing.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:31 AM on August 7, 2013


With that headline, I was kind of hoping this was a call for seizing the means of production, but apparently it's just speculation toward technological solutions to human problems....
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:33 AM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


My city has a huge medical complex and one fun thing is there are happy hours near the med center for shift workers. It is wonderful fun to have a margarita at 7:30AM with breakfast tacos and your coworkers.

I have a friend who worked as an overnight triage nurse in one of the roughest hospitals in the city. We used to go have beer and breakfast after we both got off work.


But I worry we frighten other people who watch us mucking it up in the early hours with alcohol in our scrubs.

Eff 'em. You can have a drink after work just like anyone else.

In fact, I am drinking wine RIGHT NOW. It's after five somewhere.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:34 AM on August 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Light makes no difference when both the city and the neighborhood have conspired against me and declared that Wednesdays and Thursdays are Jackhammer, Woodchipper, Leafblower and Lawnmower Day.


It's like they know.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:38 AM on August 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Then there's the things I hate. My sleep schedules are different every day. It's all over the place and that is my norm. Codes (I work in a hospital) seem to always happen between 4AM and 7AM when I'm at my most tired. Knowing this makes me more stressed at those times because I'm anxious something is going to happen and I need to be ON. And no one else in the world has any empathy for your weirdo schedule. Lawnmowers and construction are always going on somewhere while I'm trying to sleep. People in your life who know you have these weird hours get angry because you need to sleep when they want to plan something.

YOU EARNED THOSE DRINKS. EARNED THEM.

I am toasting you with my wine. You have pretty much described a lot of my experience and no, the daywalkers, they do not understand.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:43 AM on August 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


I work in Ye' Olde Internet Mines. For the Windows and Mac, I must third f.lux. For GNU/Linux, BSD, and other *nix platforms... there is Redshift. Free and Open, it's probably already in your repositories. It makes all the diving I do far more comfortable. Granted... I'm on Seconds... but every little bit counts.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 8:54 AM on August 7, 2013


Every time I work a full night shift, I end up depressed and/or sick. I love nighttime, I love f.lux (which really has noticeably made a positive difference in my looking at screens at night) but getting into a nocturnal sleep cycle really messes with my health and emotional stability. Interestingly, one wing of the facility where I work has warmer, softer lighting and I find working back there at night to be quite cozy; working in all the other too-brightly-lit sick fluorescent lighting wings, though, yech.
posted by byanyothername at 8:54 AM on August 7, 2013


This is why I can't stand those daylight-balanced compact fluorescent bulb. Thankfully there's getting to be more of the warmer ones available now, but I still see people with their whole houses decked out in cold grim blue light in the evening. Gives me the vapors.
posted by echo target at 8:59 AM on August 7, 2013


I work night tech support. It's... different.

I've noticed that I have no concept of "breakfast" or "lunch" or "dinner" anymore- food is just food and I eat a couple of times a day. There's a Waffle House in town (not with the yellow sign, one of the Indiana ones that are slowly dying), and the night and morning staff know me pretty well (I didn't realize being asked if you want "the usual" was a real thing before I started frequenting it). It's closing in a month, and I don't know where I'm gonna start eating on my nights off- I guess I'll have to cook more and bother my roommate about doing his damned dishes more often.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:06 AM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine has a theory that the main reason businesses use fluorescent lighting instead of incandescent lighting is that most people are uglier under fluorescent light and are therefore more submissive and obedient. If that's true I believe it's an accident. Don't attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity.
posted by bukvich at 9:08 AM on August 7, 2013


After a conversation with someone who had been researching circadian lighting in health care and elder care environments, I followed her suggestion and bought a $4 pair of blue-blocking (sometimes called copper) wrap-around sunglasses. Blue light triggers you to be awake, so she decided blocking blue light should have the same effect. She said wearing them for an hour before bed seemed to not only make it easier to go to sleep, but she stopped having pretty severe sleep disruption issues. For $4, I thought, what the hell, I'd try it. And I can attest (with Fitbit data to show it) that it works. I don't worry about whether I use computers or have lights on, but I wear them an hour before bed and I put them on when I get up to pee.
posted by wendyfairy at 9:22 AM on August 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


the daywalkers, they do not understand.
You call them that too?

I work for less than 50% of the year, get over 50% more pay than a daywalker and sometimes get paid for watching films, sleeping or reading.

It fucks you up though, 7 years doing this shit and the money and time off seems to be more of a trap than freedom. That's probably because I've forgotten what it's like to work FIVE days in a row and have two days off a week.
posted by fullerine at 10:16 AM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


"New" research as in decades old, but good to see it getting more attention.

F-lux helps a bit but the blue wavelengths still leaks through on most screens, so it will give you some effect but not completely, according to the guy at LEDMuseum.org, who tested it a while back (that was on a fluorescent-backlit laptop screen as I recall; same would be true for "white" LEDs).

If you want to block the blue completely, Rosco makes theatrical filter gels that are cheap (six dollars or so for a 22x24" sheet, from most theatrical and photographic suppliers). They post the spectrum transmitted for each.

Here's the Rosco reference chart
You want to block the range below about 500nm.
Here's their medium yellow transmission data image

A little rectangle of this works fine on a PDA or iPhone, the stylus still works through it whether it's pressure or capacitative type.

There are quite a few other ways to remove the blue-green light
This is the time of year it starts to matter, in the Northern hemisphere, as sunset gets earlier.
We switch to low/no-blue light around 8pm, routinely

If you're young and vigorous this won't matter to you. Your sleep cycle is likely bombproof.

For those with young children, and for people getting older -- whose sleep cycle isn't as well consolidated --- removing the "stay awake" signal helps sleep a lot.
posted by hank at 10:59 AM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


P.S. -- so you don't need "red before bed" -- low-blue or no-blue light loses the range that keeps you wakeful.

(Again, if you don't have the problem of lying in bed for an hour with your mind spinning unable to sleep -- you're young and vigorous and adult and don't have the problem. No worries.)

If you do need to improve your (or your baby's or older parent's ) sleep habits:

Amber and yellow are fine so long as there's little or nothing below about 500 nanometers.
Not good enough for matching thread colors for weaving or knitting or sewing, but fine for normal life :-)

Here's LEDMuseum's page with some relevant spectra

GE 14 watt Bug Light CFL
(note how little of the blue light spike below 500nm gets through -- compare it to the unfiltered 'white' fluorescents further down the page)

This is a yellow-amber LED spectrum

And here's the American Medical Association's position paper on artificial light at night:
"... The power to artificially override the natural cycle of light and dark is a recent event and represents a man-made self-experiment on the effects of exposure to increasingly bright light during the night .... In addition to resetting the circadian pacemaker, light also stimulates additional neuroendocrine and neurobehavioral responses including suppression of melatonin release from the pineal gland .... various health effects.... are potential carcinogenic effects related to melatonin suppression, especially breast cancer...."

Fortunately for us humans, amber LEDs are widely available because they're made to protect sea turtles.

You can find them much cheaper if you look around. You know how to do that.

The yellow wraparound eye protectors can be found for $3 apiece at hardware stores, and work fine. They have enough shielding on the side that you get complete filtering. Or 'oogle for image search will find them
posted by hank at 12:09 PM on August 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


My wife has steadily become more of a daywalker over the years, while I've retained my seminocturnal software-developer habits. After she started complaining about my reading light, I built an light panel using a board like this populated with lots of red, some orange and yellow, and a couple of green LEDs. It works really well - it's bright enough to read clearly, but it doesn't feel bright.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:15 PM on August 7, 2013


Here's the worst thing about working third shift:

(Jpfed is sleeping)
Phone: RRRRIIIINGGG!
Jpfed: (answers phone) mmfh. Hellurg?
Friend: Hey, are you done with your little nap yet?
Jpfed: Um. Let me check. (sees clock. It is noon). No. I am not done with my "little nap". I am almost exactly halfway through the daily eight-hour sleep period that all humans require.
Friend: Cool. I'll be over in about 20 minutes!
posted by Jpfed at 12:22 PM on August 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Does this mean that the blue should become the red after say, 11pm?
posted by Hactar at 1:19 PM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


P.S. -- so you don't need "red before bed" -- low-blue or no-blue light loses the range that keeps you wakeful. - hank

Actually research suggests that green light also affects the SCN.

Also the polyphasic society has some great tips on their web site.
posted by Jernau at 2:11 PM on August 7, 2013


Does this mean that the blue should become the red after say, 11pm?

I was thinking the same, wondering if that will work with all the different time zones Mefites are living in...
posted by ipsative at 2:28 PM on August 7, 2013


Does this mean that the blue should become the red after say, 11pm? - Hactar

You would probably want to start a little earlier than that. Melatonin production would typically begin as soon as the sun sets. Kind of like how f.lux works on a daylight timer. A ruby sheet, such as the one the polyphasic society suggests would do the trick (see my previous post).
posted by Jernau at 2:39 PM on August 7, 2013



Friend: Hey, are you done with your little nap yet?


Replace "friend" with "family" and oh God yeah.

The other worst thing is that I have had the same shift for almost nine years now and nobody seems to ever remember when I work. They still get offended because I can't do anything on weekends. Friends I WORK WITH get offended that I can't do anything on weekends. (I work 4-midnight Friday Saturday and Sunday.)

The other other worst thing is when I have to run errands after my shift, shuffling amid the daywalkers feeling like some shambling demon mound from a Miyazaki film. Since most of my post work errands tend to be downtown, I am deluged with Corporate Morning People swarming around the coffee shops, chattering in SynergySpeak, clicking around in their clicky shoes like pointy insects.


Maybe if I shined a red light on them or wore some red glasses they would look like people again.


Or the aliens from They Live, but that would just confirm what I already suspect, so that would also be acceptable.
posted by louche mustachio at 5:20 AM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


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