Amber Glasses Can Ease Insomnia Caused by Late-night TV, Phone Use, Study Finds

Glasses tested in a recent trial block the blue light emitted by electronic screens that wreaks havoc with our brain's melatonin production

Amber-colored wraparound lenses that were used in study to see if they would help insomniacs
Ari Shechter

Never mind cake and eating: Do you want to have your smartphone and text with friends before bedtime, without turning into a raving insomniac? Are you emotionally powerless to switch off the television two hours before beddy-bye and read a book? You can have it all, if you watch the screen through amber-lensed glasses, according to a Columbia University paper to be published in the January issue of Journal of Psychiatric Research.

The study was a very small one, but it could impact the lives of us all, albeit chiefly manufacturers of amber-colored spectacles. They could get rich. The rest of us may, however, get a little extra sleep.

Todays smartphones, computer monitors, iPads and laptops et emit chiefly blue light. Some 90% of Americans use screens to unwind before sleep, a figure probably extrapolatable to Israelis.

The only problem is then they can have trouble falling asleep, if they use these toys an hour or two before bed. Why? Because looking at blue-spectrum light at night suppresses secretion of melatonin by our pineal glands in our brains. High melatonin translates into sleepiness, but low melatonin translates into alertness.

So, blue light translates into low melatonin secretion, which in turn means you stay awake.

Studies have shown adults need eight to nine hours of sleep, never mind what you fondly imagine about your superhuman abilities. What to do?

Buy and wear amber-colored lenses and watch TV or smartphone to your hearts content, says the Columbia University Medical Center team led by Ari Shechter. Orange lenses would be even better, blocking the blue light more completely.

To be sure, the study is tiny, involving exactly 14 insomniacs tested over seven nights in a row. The insomniacs wore wrap-around frames with amber-colored lenses that blocked blue light, while the controls wore placebo lenses (i.e., not amber) for two hours before bedtime. Four weeks later, participants repeated the protocol with the other set of glasses.

Result: Participants got around 30 minutes extra sleep when they wore the amber lenses compared to the clear lenses.

There could be other factors in play, for instance, perhaps the thought that they were doing something proactive about their insomnia could have had a relaxing effect. Also, the insomniacs werent tied down to beds with electrodes in their brains: they filled out questionnaires. But they think they slept better longer and more soundly.

Shechter agrees that the thesis needs more testing, but amber lenses can be had cheaply enough for most screen-addicted Westerners to just do it, pick up a pair and try this out for themselves. For what its worth, the amber glasses also seems to have lowered the blood pressure among the participating insomniacs (previously published). Again, go figure. Maybe the thought that they were doing something proactive helped here too.