Now I am sure that you, like any good citizen, wear sunglasses to protect your eyes whenever you are out and about. At night, you probably watch TV, read on a kindle, sit in front of a computer screen, look at your smart phone or generally go about life under artificial lighting without any thought about what that light might be doing to your precious eyes. Unless you live in a cabin in the woods, you probably spend your evenings exposed to an array of electric light sources that would have been unthinkable even fifty years ago.
I’m sorry to say this, but you’ve got it all backwards. My suggestion is this: always put your blue blockers on at night and permanently leave your sunnies off during the day. Say what? I know this seems a little ‘out there’ but work with me here.
Let’s think about this logically for a moment.
- Have you ever seen a pig in sunglasses? Nope.
- Did our ancestors wear sunglasses? Nope.
- Do babies wear sunglasses? Nope.
- If it wasn’t an ongoing mega-fashion trend, would you wear sunglasses?
The answer to the last question is: ‘course you would. Why? Because you have been persuaded that sunglasses are essential to protect your eyes from those nasty UV rays. You know, the ones that have been shining down on earth since time immemorial and from which we have only recently been rescued by the amazing scientific research of the 20th century that introduced the life saving measures called sunscreen and sunglasses. Not.
What if sunglasses are largely a scam? I’m not talking about fake Ray-Bans here or designer knock-offs here, I’m talking about the necessity to wear sunglasses at all. Among the many, many health myths out there, the wearing of protective eye wear in daylight is one of the more pervasive ones. Yes, your eyes are sensitive organs and yes, they can be damaged by excessive exposure to light but they are also exquisitely and intricately designed organs that thrive on light – but not just any old light but the full spectrum light radiated by the sun.
If you are skiing, fishing or aviating, by all means, wear those shades to protect your eyes from the extreme glare of snow, water and high altitude, but for the rest of the time, you need to question if you really need them. You see, light is more than just something that gives shapes to things, lets you see what you are doing and allows you to get around without stubbing your toe on the furniture on the way to the bathroom – it’s a nutrient!
The definition of nutrient, according to the Cambridge English Dictionary, is, “any substance that plants or animals need in order to live and grow”. We know that plants need sunlight to produce their life blood, known as chlorophyll, to survive and we also know that we, as humans, need sunlight to thrive. Not filtered light through windows or fake light from light bulbs, but real, pulsating full spectrum light from the sun. It is as important as food, water and oxygen but we just don’t pay that much attention to it. Worse than that, we actively avoid the natural kind because we are convinced that it is harmful and spend way too much time with the unnatural sort.
We don’t need light just to make vitamin D in our skin, although that’s enormously important too. Many of the benefits of sunlight are mediated by the eyes and we require daylight to pass through our eyes to initiate a whole slew of metabolic processes. Light affects how the pituitary gland functions, which in turn controls our hormones. Things as diverse as depression, hyperactivity, anxiety, ovulation, dental cavities and learning ability can all be influenced for better or worse by the quality of light we receive. If you wear sunglasses, of course, you prevent that light from performing its non-visual purpose.
Yin and Yang of Light
For all our technological advancements, knowledge and sophistication in this 21st century, we seem to be doing a pretty good job of screwing with our health. We can’t mess with the natural order of things and then sit around scratching our heads wondering where it all went wrong but that’s exactly what we are doing. We can pat ourselves on the collective, scientific back because we have wiped out the likes of bubonic plague but then there’s rampant cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, mental disorders, obesity, arthritis, cardiovascular disease… and we are not doing a very good job with those.
In his book Light: Medicine of the Future, Dr. Liberman says, “When we speak about health, balance, and physiological regulation, we are referring to the function of the body’s major health keepers; the nervous system and the endocrine system. These major control centers of the body are directly stimulated and regulated by light, to an extent far beyond what modern science…has been willing to accept.”
For a bazillion years (ok, 3.6 billion if you want to be picky) the only light sources on earth were thermal – the sun and fire. All that changed 150 years ago - a mere blink of an eye in evolutionary terms - when non thermal lights were invented. This meant we could turn night into day by bathing in synthetic light that makes our brains think it must still be daytime when it’s dark outside. We could also turn day into night by using surrogate light sources indoors that don’t provide the full spectral distribution our eyes are perfectly adapted to. This confuses the brain and we can get drowsy when we should be wide awake.
If you are like most people living in industrialized nations, you are probably suffering from “malillumination”. And no, I didn’t make this word up all by myself. It was coined by Dr. John Nash Ott, the inventor of full spectrum lighting. Malillumination is the equivalent of malnutrition but instead of not getting enough good quality food, it means you are suffering from the effects of not getting enough good quality light. Heck, maybe you are even suffering from both “mals” by overdosing on junk food and junk light and not getting enough of the good stuff.
Instead of there being a lovely contrast between day with strong sunlight and night with complete darkness, we can drift in a near perpetual twilight zone in between. There’s no balance, no equal and opposite light play, no yin and yang. There is really no getting away from the fact that we need the extremes of full light and absolute darkness to be healthy and happy.
The Hormonal Prince of Darkness
At night, melatonin, the hormone of darkness, comes out to play. Most people associate melatonin with sleep. Although it does make us wind down and prepare us for sleep, it has loads of other critical functions beyond that. It is an antioxidant, a free radical scavenger, a cortisol antagonist and an immune stimulant. It also helps protect your DNA. In a very complex system of checks and balances, melatonin influences the balance of almost every other hormone in the endocrine system. Betcha didn’t know all that.
High energy voltage light, aka blue light, suppresses melatonin secretion. Melatonin is produced not only in the pineal gland but right there in the eyeball. It is responsible for regenerating the rods and cones in the retina. As soon as you flick that light on, open your laptop or stare at the screen of your smart phone, blue light causes the regeneration to come to a screeching halt. See why wearing those sexy blue blocking glasses are a good idea? You can still see with them on but they prevent the blue fraction of light from interfering with your darkness hormone.
Just as sunglasses block beneficial sunlight and blue light during the day, blue light glasses block the same blue at night. So it’s a bit of a cheat, in a good way, to recreate the yin and yang your eyes crave. Y’all know you aren’t going to give up your gizmos at night, no matter how many horrendous consequences there may be. You like reading on your kindle, checking your e mails and playing World of Warcraft. I get that. But the least you can do is get your gaming glasses on.
On a final note, let me present you with some info from Alexander Wunsch, a German physician and an expert in vibrational medicine and photobiology. He gave an illuminating (sorry) talk at Light Symposium 2016 on 14th October in Wismar, Germany. Note, that’s barely a week ago. Yeah, we like to bring you the latest and greatest in research.
In his presentation1, Wunsch talks about the influence of blue light at night on the endocrine system and how dampening the melatonin response stimulates the pituitary gland. The down-stream negative consequences are:
- retinal damage
- blurred vision
- eye fatigue
- eye discomfort
- dry eyes
- sleep deprivation
- cardiovascular disease
- mental disorders