3 Reasons Why Orange Blue Light Blocking Glasses are Misleading

Truelight Daylight glasses in a pile showing off color

Article at a Glance: 

  • Orange or amber “blue blocking” lenses are traditional blue blockers, based on 1970’s science (originally developed by NASA). They block too much blue light during the day, and essentially no green light at night.

  • Based on a frog discovery in 1998, we now know that the green spectrum has an incredible impact on sleep quality.

  • Not all blue light is actually bad. Some blue light is needed during the day in order to remain awake and functioning normally. Blocking all of the blue spectrum isn’t good for your alertness or your overall circadian rhythm.

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Before we move on, let’s do a quick definition of what “blue light” is and is not. It’s not actually the same as the “bibbidi bobbidi blue” paint color that you painted the walls in your child’s nursery.  Rather, it’s a frequency of light emitted by electronic devices, such as TVs, iPads, smartphones, and fluorescent bulbs. It’s also found in natural sunlight. Collectively, we call blue light “junk light” when it’s man-made by electronics rather than the sun.

The concept of blocking the blue light spectrum to improve sleep has been around since the 1970’s. That was when the tiny brain region called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN) was discovered. The SCN helps to control the body’s sleep cycles, wakefulness and other daily fluctuations. Glasses that have orange lenses, also known as “blue light blocking glasses” were developed to block 100% of the blue spectrum. This became the mainstay solution to address the impact of light on the SCN. But back in the 70’s, blue light was a very small problem, so it wasn’t widely adopted. It also wasn’t understood that blocking all blue light during the day is bad for the brain. Today, the old fashioned orange-lensed blue blockers are available for about $10 at common online resellers like Amazon. There are more expensive orange lens versions, but that extra cost you end up paying at the end of the day is for frame style and brand name, not high quality or function.

The shift to junk light in the 90’s

Then, in 1992, everything changed. The era of junk light was about to begin. That is when technology was developed to generate full-spectrum white LED light and the high-brightness blue LED was born. Today, most of us live under constant bright-white light, which tells our SCN and physiology it’s always “noon”, even if it’s 6 am or 6 pm. That also coincided with the beginning of computers (with bright blue screens) in more homes, more TV time, and eventually tables and smartphones. The result is that people were surrounded by junk light 24 hours per day for the first time in history. Now it seemed that blue blocking glasses and lenses could make a big difference. But we hadn’t yet met the frogs…

And then there were frogs

Light research continued, and a new discovery was made that showed blue light isn’t the only light that impacts our SCN. It happened in 1998 with the African Clawed frog. While melatonin is well known as the “sleep hormone”, very few people talk about what triggers melatonin to be secreted. It wasn’t widely understood until 1998, when the light sensitivity of the African Clawed frog was studied. Now we know that we need to block blue and green spectrum in order to get our bodies and hormones ready for solid sleep.

Your melapsoin sensors trigger your body to make melatonin, are incredibly sensitive to blue AND green light spectrum. So by blocking only the blue light spectrum with orange or amber lenses, you partially help get ready for sleep, but you’re missing the green blocking half of the solution. The “blue blocking” glasses you want to be using in the evening before bed are not orange, they are dark red and block blue AND green. Learn more about how you can keep your body and brain thinking it’s nighttime even when your eyes are open.

Based on all of that history and science, you can see the three reasons orange or amber blue blockers are not as effective in the modern world:

  1. Old-school orange blue blockers block too much blue spectrum during the day. This messes up your circadian rhythm throughout the day as they put your SCN in a permanent state of twilight. If used constantly over time, it can actually reform your brain.  Instead, opt for a light filtering option such as a Daylights style.
  2. At night, they are only blocking the blue spectrum, which is a good start, but it’s only half of the solution. To get your best night’s sleep, you need to block at least 90% of the at least 90% or more of light at wavelengths in the range of 495-570 nm. In non-science speak, your want your sleep glasses to block all the blue and green spectrum, so your SCN thinks it’s nighttime and your melanopsin will tell your body to make melatonin. If you want to keep watching TV or spending time on your tablet, choose a Twilight model that will block all blue and green so your brain is in sleep mode when it comes time for your body to hit the pillow.
  3. Style or function? As 80’s styles come back in vogue, there is a risk that consumers can get confused by whether blue blocking glasses are designed for style to take advantage of the retro look, or if they are using the most recent science to ensure function AND style. As an example, clear frames used by some orange lens blue blockers can inadvertently transmit and refract blue light into the eye from the frames into the eye. So the orange lens is blocking all blue directly in front of the eye, but the frame around the lens is magnifying light coming into the top and sides of the eye. There are many styles of sleep-wake glasses that have both style and function and have been proven with QEEG studies. Choose the one that you’ll be wear to reduce eye strain during the day and improve sleep at night!

Well researched articles from highly respected publications all support the idea of filtering some blue light during the day and blocking both blue and green junk light at night.

If you have been using orange blue blockers, you may be wondering what your options are.

Your best option is to switch to a 24 hour solution so you get the right amount of blue light exposure during the day, and the right blockage of blue and green spectrum at night. If that isn’t an option for you, then keep using blue blockers with orange or amber lenses since they better than doing nothing to provide an improvement to your sleep at night. If you wear them during the day for eye strain, minimize the amount of time they are worn. Here are some additional suggestions for managing the light in your environment:

Managing light for sleep and alertness on a 24-hour cycle

  1. Get as much natural sunlight as you can. This is particularly true first thing in the morning. Go for a 10-minute walk. You can even take your coffee.
  2. If you’re on man-made electronics or if you work under bright white LED or fluorescent lights during the day, then choose a blue light filtering (which are often still called) “blue blocking” lens), such as the 75% blue-blocking TrueDark Daylights. This lets 25% of the blue through, keeping you awake and alert, but avoids telling your body that it’s “high noon” throughout the whole day.
  3. Keep your bedroom dark. Use blackout curtains. Don’t use an alarm clock with numbers that glow. If that isn’t an option for you, choose a clock face with red numbers that are dimmable, and put it at the lowest brightness.
  4. Avoid man-made light in the 2 hours before bed. We know that’s nearly impossible, so your next best bet is to use TrueDark Twilights to help your body and brain think it’s dark, even as you’re checking email and watching TV. Your melanson sensors won’t know the difference, and they’ll tell your melatonin to start producing!

Frank Sinatra said it the best when he sang about how great the world is when looking at the world through rose-colored glasses…

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