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Trouble sleeping? Wearing amber-tinted glasses before bed might help

Here's why glasses that block blue light could help lead to better slumber.
/ Source: TODAY

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If you’re having trouble sleeping, try wearing amber-tinted glasses that block blue light for a couple of hours before going to bed.

A new study found the glasses, which are available online and in stores, led to longer and more refreshing slumber, according to a report published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

With the tinted glasses, study volunteers “were sleeping about 30 minutes extra,” said lead author Ari Shechter, an assistant professor of medical sciences at the Columbia University Medical Center and a researcher with Columbia’s Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health. “And those improvements were associated with them feeling like their sleep was better.”

Shechter and his colleagues wanted to take a closer look at a simple way to block blue light, which has been shown in other studies to delay and diminish the release of melatonin, a hormone that helps us get to sleep. The researchers figured that if they had people wear glasses that at least partially blocked blue light, there might be improvements in sleep.

To test their hypothesis, the researchers rounded up 15 people who suffered from sleep problems and asked them to spend one week wearing the glasses every night for two hours before going to bed. For comparison, a month later the same volunteers would wear clear glasses for two hours before bedtime for a week.

The glasses used in the study blocked 65 percent of the blue light, but left other wavelengths relatively untouched.

“We specified two hours before their expected bed time because two hours before you go to sleep, melatonin levels start rising,” Shechter said. “Melatonin is associated with the onset of darkness and it helps us fall asleep.”

Shechter and others believe insomnia is on the rise because people are exposed to so much more blue light at night through their smartphones and other devices. He figured it would be easier to get people to wear tinted glasses than to give up their devices in the hours before sleep.

The volunteers wore the glasses as they went about their normal routines, including spending time outside the house. When they went to bed, they wore devices on their wrists that kept track of any movement so the researchers could tell when they were sleeping.

While the glasses seemed to improve and lengthen sleep, “I wouldn’t say this is something for everyone to do,” Shechter said. “If you are having difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and have overall bad sleep quality, I think this can be helpful for you. But if you are generally sleeping well, I don’t think you need to have it.”

Shechter also cautions against wearing the glasses while driving at night. “If they are effective for you, you wouldn’t want to make yourself feel sleepy when you’re driving or operating heavy machinery,” he explained.

If you want to run your own experiment, the glasses are easy to find. “You can get them online,” he said. “For example, if you go to Amazon, you can just punch in ‘blue blockers’ and they’ll come up. They’re quite affordable.” One of the most popular pairs of amber-tinted glasses on Amazon costs $10.

The new study presents “a clever” approach to the issue of insomnia, said Brant Hasler, a circadian rhythm specialist and professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Still, the study was small, cautioned Hasler, who is unaffiliated with it.

Dr. Phyllis Zee is already prescribing amber-tinted glasses to her patients with insomnia.

“In some individuals, they certainly do help,” said Zee, a professor of neurology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and director of Northwestern’s Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine.

Bluish and greenish light at night tends to shut down melatonin, Zee said. “Early in the evening, your pineal gland begins to make melatonin and secrete it,” she explained. “It’s the brain’s darkness signal that tells the sleep system and the circadian clock that it’s night time. But if you shine a very bright light on people, it will suppress melatonin.”

Even if you don’t have amber glasses handy, you can always change the settings on your electronic devices to a warmer color scheme, one that emphasizes oranges and reds, Zee suggested.

Here are some of the best-rated blue light blocking glasses on Amazon:

Uvex Blue Light Blocking Glasses, $10, Amazon

These lenses have over 2,600 reviews on Amazon and a 4-star rating. The website information claims that these glasses feature Spectrum Control Technology to absorb 98 percent of blue light emitted from laptops, computers and iPads.

Swanick Sleep Blue Light Blocking Glasses, $69 (normally $89), Amazon

Try these glasses from Swanick Sleep for a more chic look. They are a bit more expensive but have a 4.5-star rating and claim to block more light than any other computer reading glasses. They also have an anti-glare lens.

Swanwick Sleep Fitover Blue Light Blocking Glasses, $69, Amazon

We love this version of the Swanick Sleep glasses because they fit easily over your prescription lenses and your everyday reading glasses.

For more sleep tips, check out this sleep sack that one editor's daughter can't sleep without, the sound machine that lulls another editor to sleep every night and the bedtime gadgets we tested on the show!