As parents, we’re constantly being told what’s best for our children. There’s so much advice out there to scare us and tell us we are doing everything wrong, it can all feel very negative. But when there are real, practical things we can do quickly and inexpensively to counteract genuine dangers, it’s totally worth a four minute read.
If your home lighting features LED lights, then the light your children are exposed to is – and there’s no way to sugar-coat this – harming them. Seven million years of human evolution, 140 years of electric light and just over a decade of LED light (resulting in a 70% increase in artificial light this century!) means we are not used to the spikes in artificial blue light we are now exposed to, or the constant electrical flicker that surrounds us. And under the current Covid circumstances, we are spending even more time inside and under unnatural light.
Expert in lighting and its impact on our visual, biological and emotional responses to it, Dr Shelley James, explains: “It’s especially hard on children as their understanding and interpretation of the world around them is still developing – their eyesight; their ability to read; or to see the full range of colours in the spectrum. Their sleep patterns, mental stability and internal workings all rely on triggers from the light around us.”
And these are not ‘fluffy’ concepts – they are established, scientific facts with extensive evidence. But they may also feel unhelpful and overwhelming since, let’s face it, none of us is about to pack away all the screens or switch off all the lights!
For more on why blue light and flicker are so bad for our children click here.
There are two main sources producing two key issues:
Too much blue light:
Our devices with screens rely on LED light that is blue-based and therefore mess with our natural (Circadian) sleep/wake rhythms. Anything we watch or play on them tends to flash between scenes or movements, over-stimulating our brains.
[For an explanation of why peaks of blue light are damaging our natural rhythms, click here.]
The flicker factor:
Or specifically, lightbulbs that flicker. Almost all LED lamps have too much blue, but not only that, all our bulbs (whatever type they are) are flickering, some more than others. It may not be visible to the naked eye, but our brains are exposed to the resulting strobe effect.
[For more on why flicker is so dangerous, click here.]
So, aside from taking more time outside (children need a minimum of 2 hours of outside play every day) what can we do to make our children safer and expose them to the best possible light whilst they are inside? Well, actually… a lot. And most of it is quick and free (or at least inexpensive). Dr James offers her top tips for concerned parents.
Discover more at www.ageoflightinnovations.com
First, spot the main flicker culprits in the areas where you spend most time or where visual comfort is most important – bedrooms, work/study and social spaces are probably top of the list. Take a video of the lights on full and dimmed power with your mobile phone on slow motion or its lowest/slowest resolution settings. This won’t expose all flicker, but it will help you see where the worst offenders are. If you know it’s a particularly bad bulb – change it! Swap it for a higher quality bulb or even a Flicker Free bulb.
[Note: bulbs are a common cause of flicker, but not the only cause – You may need an electrician to check the wiring, power supply or driver and switches too.]
Check the tone of each bulb. You want to have cooler (whiter or bluer tones) in places where you want to be stimulated, and warmer (or more yellow) tones in relaxation spots, such as bedrooms.
We know that the brightness and position of the source of the flicker also makes a big difference to the impact. So a dim lamp on the edge of the room is much less of a concern than a bright task light on your desk. Bouncing the light from a wall or adding a diffuser will help to even out the flicker.
Watch out for super bright lights in a bathroom where you or a child might pop in during the night – even a couple of minutes’ exposure can wake you to the point of struggling to return to sleep.
If the light in a particular space is brighter than necessary, buy a less bright bulb. This is far preferable to using a dimmer switch to turn down the brightness, as that will generally make the flicker worse.
If your child is watching a screen, make sure that they are at least 33cm away and that the rest of the room is lit – watching a bright screen in dark surroundings can damage the central / foveal area that is most sensitive. Dr Shelley explains: “The real issue with glare / extreme contrast is that the eyes get tired or strained and when they open up to let in enough light to see the dark ‘edges’ of the scene, they let in too much blue light which permanently damages the central colour-sensing area of the eye.”
Check all bedrooms for small, cheap sources of LED – like alarm clocks, air conditioning units etc. These glow surprisingly brightly; a glow that will be picked up even when the eye is closed since the pupil is relaxed and open behind your closed eyelids. This could well be messing with your sleep! Cover or remove them.
Make sure all screens are off at least one hour before bedtime! Try setting up a charging station for all devices and after eg 6pm for the youngest children and a little later for the older kids and adults, all screens are put there. Research shows that going to bed with an e-reader or kindle compared to a printed book reduces the quality of sleep and feelings of drowsiness the following day – and it can take a few hours to feel fully awake. Instead, make that time before bed a relaxing moment to catch up with the real people in your life.
Specialist screen filters and adjustments in your settings will help to create a better balance of blue exposure. As for LED lightbulbs, there is no filter available for these, so the only option is to buy lightbulbs without a blue chip. There a few of these emerging into the market. Look out for Full Spectrum, organic light quality with Blue Balance and Eye Kind technology. UK start-up, RAY, recently launched a range called SunRAY that achieves this combination highly effectively.
Talk about it – explain the issue and why you are concerned. Where possible, find approaches they can relate to. For sporty kids, mention reduced recovery, cardio and muscle performance; for kids who want to do well at school, let them know about reduced memory and learning; for kids who want to be good at computer games, let them know about reduced reaction times; for kids worried about weight and appearance, there is plenty of evidence about the connection between poor sleep and weight gain. Work together to find solutions that will be healthier (and happier) for everyone. If everyone is on board and participating, you are much more likely to be successful.
Go outside! Nothing beats fresh air and sunlight. We evolved under the sun and – like natural vs. super-processed foods – we thrive in a natural environment.
Read more: Is your desk lamp really working for you?
Created by the UK start-up, RAY Lighting, the SunRAY ranges introduce world-first innovations to achieve a truly Circadian friendly range of LED bulbs using BlueBalance Technology. Combining many years of experience in the lighting industry, a passion for beautiful design and a drive to bring organic, natural light into all aspects of our lives, RAY Lighting has succeeded in creating Full Spectrum, Flicker Free, violet chip and ‘Nature’s blue’ LEDGU10/MR16 form light bulbs amongst their family of products.