Too much blue light can wreck your health, but lawyers can fight back.

There are a million reasons why the paperless, cloud-based office is good for lawyers. Our own studies showed a 67% increase in productivity through cloud-based case management software. Other research has found a digital, paperless office leads to “increased revenue, reduced cost and risk, increased profit, competitive advantage,” as well as “growth and sustainability.”  And of course, it means fewer trees toppled for the sake of your legal briefs!

If you’re not using paperless and cloud-based solutions, you’re missing out on streamlined workflows, higher levels of collaboration, fewer dropped matters, and better client communication.

But those solutions also lead to more time spent at our computers and on our cell phones, and all that screen-time brings its own challenges. Recent health research has shed some light on one of them: the problems caused by blue light.

Blue Light & Your Health

Out of all the colors in the spectrum, what makes blue light special? It’s high energy light, with a short wavelength. This is also true of ultraviolet light, but our eyes absorb ultraviolet wavelengths at the front of the eye, while blue light passes on to the retina.

And once it gets there, it does some curious things. In addition to hitting our rods and cones, blue light also triggers an entirely different photoreceptor in the eye — not discovered until 1998 — called melanopsin retinal ganglion cells. These cells coordinate our daily circadian rhythms.

Blue light is a major signal for our deep body functions. And we’re seeing more of it than ever before. It glares out from our computers, phones, and TVs late into the night. The average adult now looks at screens for 9 and a half hours every day. The average attorney is surely higher than that.

So what does this mean for us?

During the day, blue light is good for us. It boosts our attention, shortens reaction times, and even improves our mood. The biggest source of daytime blue light is sunlight, and it serves us well to get a lot of it.

But at night, it’s a different story. Blue light directly affects how much melatonin our brains secrete. Seeing that light at night makes it harder to fall asleep, and decreases the quality of sleep that we do get.

Maybe this is one of the reasons that of all occupations, lawyers are the 2nd most sleep-deprived.

But it doesn’t just stop there.

Reduced melatonin causes tumors to grow more quickly, which is leading researchers to wonder if blue light is behind the increased cancer rates seen among people working night shifts. Nighttime workers also are more likely to suffer from diabetes, as their pancreas produces less insulin. And reduction in the hormone leptin, which causes us to feel full, leads them to higher obesity rates.

It’s still unclear what role blue light plays in these diseases, but its capacity to meddle with metabolism and hormone production makes it a serious suspect.

Added to all the direct problems caused by nighttime blue light are the indirect effects. Since blue light at night makes us sleep less, it brings on another host of problems. Healthline sums up the alarming research on the maladies caused by sleep deprivation, including:

  • Weakened memory
  • Trouble with thinking and concentration
  • Mood problems, including poor anger management, anxiety, and depression.
  • More accidents and a loss of balance
  • Weakened immunity
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased diabetes risk
  • Weight gain
  • Low sex drive
  • Increased risk of heart disease

And of course, each of these problems have their own add-on side effects, meaning this can all lead to a run-away feedback loop of catastrophically bad health.

How to Fight

There is no reason it has to be this way. As long as life has existed, the cycles of daylight and darkness have been locked into place. Our species was clever enough to invent electric light. We can also figure out how to manage the negative health side effects of our invention.

Here’s how we can protect ourselves:

  • For two to three hours before your bedtime, don’t look at screens. Prioritize other activities in that time, like reading or spending time with family and friends.
  • But since we are all bound to break the no-screens-before-bed rule, install a blue-light filter on your devices. These are often free apps that will sync up with your geographic location to dim the blue light as the sun goes down. Research has shown these filters can improve sleep.
  • If you’re stuck late in rooms with fluorescent lighting, you might want to buy some blue-filtering glasses.
  • If you need to use a nightlight in your home, use a red light. Red light does the least damage to your circadian rhythms.
  • Don’t miss out on bright, full-spectrum light during the day. Getting a healthy dose of blue light during the day can improve your mood and alertness, and prepare you for sleep later on.

With a little discipline, attorneys can relegate blue light to the daytime, where it belongs.