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Research says nighttime blue light exposure stifles mental wellbeing

In honour of World Mental Health Day, many of us will be checking in with ourselves and our loved ones with help from our smartphones. But new research suggests waiting until the evening to send that text could see us worse off.

Making time to acknowledge how we’re doing mentally isn’t always easy in our modern world.

Around 60 percent of the human population now lives in densely populated urban areas, where the environment is incredibly fast-paced, often noisy, and increasingly polluted. At the end of the day, we are sometimes too tired to bother.

In light of World Mental Health Day, we deserve to give ourselves a chance to ask: how am I really doing?

Millions of people have started to do this with the help of smartphone apps in recent years. This is represented in the financial value of the mindfulness and meditation app market, which stood at $522 million last year.

But while mental health apps can prompt with notifications that remind us to shut off our minds and enjoy well-deserved peace and quiet – there are also a large number of other apps fighting alongside them for our attention.

With this proximity, giving into the temptation to scroll, shop, and text late at night is all too easy. But it could be driving a mental health crisis globally, according to a new study on how blue light affects our well-being.

Researchers from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia led the world’s largest study on the effect of exposure to daytime and nighttime light on mental illness risk.

It is well known in science that circadian rhythm disturbances are a common feature of many psychiatric disorders. As a result, it is feasible to suggest that adjustments to light exposure could positively or negatively affect symptoms of mental illness.

To conduct the study, the UK Biobank called upon nearly 87,000 adult participants from the UK. These individuals were examined for their exposure to light, sleep, physical activity, and mental health.

According to the results, those exposed to high amounts of light at night saw their risk of depression increase by 30 percent. On the contrary, those exposed to high amounts of daytime light saw their risk of depression fall by 20 percent.

Worsening symptoms were also found in individuals who had been diagnosed with psychosis, bipolar, anxiety, and PTSD – showing how important giving ourselves time to shut off truly is.

‘Humans today challenge this biology, spending around 90 percent of the day indoors under electric lighting, which is too dim during the day and too bright at night compared with natural light and dark cycles,’ said Sean Cain, one of the study’s co-authors.

‘It is confusing to our bodies and making us unwell. Once people understand that their light exposure patterns have a powerful influence on their mental health, they can take some simple steps to optimize their wellbeing.’

Cain says we can do this by ensuring we expose ourselves to bright, natural light as often as possible during the day and limiting artificial light in the evenings.

If we share the same bad habits, you may find this difficult.

Our smartphones offer us an on-demand connection to the rest of the world. They keep us in touch with our family and friends, help us stay up to date with the latest news and trends, and offer entertainment in times of boredom.

Still, we need to know when to call it quits on screen time. Properly resting your mind is important – and those notifications will still be waiting when you wake up.