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What colors prevent sleep?

Getting adequate, high-quality sleep is incredibly important for our health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, many factors can disrupt our sleep patterns and prevent us from getting the rest we need. One surprising factor that can affect sleep is the color of light we are exposed to, especially before bedtime. In this article, we’ll explore how different colors of light can impact sleep and discuss which colors you should avoid before bed for a better night’s rest.

How Light Impacts Sleep

Light exposure greatly influences our sleep-wake cycles, primarily through its effects on our circadian rhythm. This internal “body clock” regulates when we feel alert and sleepy. It functions on roughly a 24-hour schedule synchronized with natural daylight patterns. When exposed to light, special cells in the retina send signals to the brain to suppress production of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin. Bright light exposure in the evening delays the release of melatonin and shifts our circadian rhythm later, making it harder to fall asleep at an appropriate bedtime.

After the sun sets, melatonin levels naturally begin to rise to induce sleepiness. However, exposure to artificial lights from screens, bulbs and other sources can hamper this process. The light’s intensity, color composition and timing determine how strong these effects are. Brighter light blocks melatonin for longer. Shorter wavelength “blue” light is especially disruptive at night. Light exposure too close to bedtime makes it harder to wind down and transition into quality sleep.

Blue Light and Sleep

Of the visible color spectrum, blue wavelengths have the strongest impact on melatonin suppression and circadian rhythms. Red and orange hues have minimal effects. This phenomenon is why blue light exposure from phones, tablets, and computer screens before bed makes it harder to fall asleep. The displays emit high concentrations of blue wavelengths at close range. Avoiding blue light for 1-2 hours before bed can help prevent these disruptive effects and improve sleep quality.

Worst Colors for Sleep

Based on what we know about light’s role in sleep, the following colors when viewed before bedtime are most likely to delay the onset of sleep:

Color Wavelengths
Blue 450-495 nm
Green 495-570 nm
Violet 380-450 nm
White Full visible spectrum

Blue, green, and violet lights contain short wavelengths on the visible spectrum. They suppress melatonin for longer periods, making it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. White light contains the full color spectrum, including lots of disruptive blue wavelengths. Avoid prolonged exposure to these colors in the 1-2 hours leading up to bed for better sleep.

Best Colors for Sleep

On the other hand, limiting light exposure to the following colors at night can support your body’s natural sleep processes:

Color Wavelengths
Red 620-750 nm
Orange 590-620 nm
Yellow 570-590 nm

Red, orange, and yellow lights have longer wavelengths on the spectrum that do not significantly impact melatonin production. Limiting exposure to these warmer colors in the evening better allows your brain’s sleep/wake cycles to regulate naturally. Think of campfires and candlelight – our ancestors spent evenings exposed to primarily these hues.

Should I Install Red Lightbulbs?

Installing red or orange lightbulbs in frequently used living spaces can minimize sleep-disrupting light exposure at night. However, this likely is not necessary. More importantly, avoid bright overhead lights, lamps, and screens emitting blue/green/violet wavelengths too close to bedtime. Draw your curtains/shades at night to block outside light pollution as well.

Small adjustments like dimming bright white bulbs, not bringing phones/tablets into your bedroom, and wearing amber-tinted “blue light blocking” glasses in the evening provide safer alternatives. Your body really just needs 1-2 hours of reduced light exposure before bed to start ramping up melatonin levels naturally.

Other Tips for Better Sleep

Along with limiting light exposure at night, several other habits can promote higher quality sleep:

  • Avoid large meals before bedtime
  • Abstain from caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine several hours before bed
  • Engage in relaxing activities like reading, meditating, or taking a bath before bed
  • Keep bedrooms cool, dark, and quiet
  • Go to bed and wake up at consistent times to stabilize your circadian rhythm

Consult your doctor if you continue having unrefreshing sleep despite good sleep hygiene. You may have an underlying condition contributing to your difficulties.

The Takeaway

Exposure to light, especially blue wavelengths, after sunset delays the release of melatonin and makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. Minimizing exposure to blue, green, violet, and white lights for 1-2 hours before bed enables your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle to regulate properly. Install red or orange night lights if needed, but simply being mindful of how electronics and indoor lighting affect sleep can make a big difference.

Along with moderating light exposure, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, winding-down routine, and healthy sleep environment lays the foundations for more restful, high-quality sleep. Pay attention to how your pre-bedtime activities and surrounding colors are impacting your ability to fall asleep with ease each night.