An exploration of sleep and insomnia, with a single destination in mind:
a good night's sleep.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Sleep's Enemy: LED Lights

Bright LED on a Jambox Bluetooth speaker
By Bill Adler

LED lights are the enemy of a good night's sleep. LEDs (light emitting diodes) are on, well, almost everything that plugs into the wall.  And LEDs are often deceptively bright: While they may look pale in the daylight, when it's dark, an LED light can shine as bright as a flashlight. Indeed, powerful flashlights are made using superbright LED lights.

Red and green LEDs can be annoying, but the white and blue ones are the brightest. (Blue is an especially popular color when it comes to electronics.) Just one can be enough to disturb sleep, telling your eyes and brain over and over again that dawn is here. LEDs can, and often will, disrupt your sleep.

Just one LED can be a problem, but if you have more than one (or even worse, a blinking LED), that can turn your circadian rhythm topsy-turvy.

While the question, "why do manufacturers have to put LEDs on every electronic device?" may bug you, the more important question is, "What can you do about bright LEDs in your bedroom?" Unfortunately you can't turn most of them off. Most devices that sport LEDs have no LED off-switch.

Some devices have lots of LEDs: Routers and modems are among the worst offenders. Cable and satellite TV boxes aren't far behind. One consumer reported, "I got 5 blinking lights on my router, my mouse has a bright green glow coming from the sides and middle mouse button, my cell has the blinking blue light, my modem has 6 constantly blinking green lights, my monitor has a standby light, my PC has 2 lights that blink. This is without my TV/set top box/360. I do not need to turn lights on at night at all." And if these things are in your bedroom, you can count on your sleep rhythm being disrupted.

Because it can take 20 or 30 minutes for our eyes to adapt to the dark, LEDs may not appear bright to us, until we're on the edge of sleep, or until they summon us from a deep sleep. At that point, we're often too tired to get up and toss the offending electronic device out the window.

The solution to the LED problem is to hunt down and cover up every LED in your bedroom before you go to bed. Do this before you're too tired to. Do it once and get it over with. And be sure to cover every LED: You may not be aware that a particular LED's light is causing sleep problems. Electrical tape has long been considered the tool for covering blinking lights and LEDs, but you're not limited to that. There's even a company, LEDdim, that sells specially designed LED stickers that won't get sticky adhesive on your electronics. If you don't ever want to see that LED, try using a permanent black. I cover the LED on my Jambox speaker (the one in the picture) with a sock; that does the trick.

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