Blue light is emitted by the sun, device screens and fluorescent LED lighting while red light wavelengths have the least power to shift circadian rhythm. Image: Jorge De La Paz

Blue light is emitted by the sun, device screens and fluorescent LED lighting while red light wavelengths have the least power to shift circadian rhythm. Image: Jorge De La Paz

APEX Insight: Blue is calming – or so we believe. Research shows that exposure to blue light might actually be keeping us up at night.

Mood lighting is all the rage. Its ability to create ambience, emulate the aurora borealis and combat jet lag make it a sought-after cabin feature. Dazzled by its energy efficiency and potential to impress, many airlines have opted for light-emitting diodes to illuminate their aircraft interiors, with blue being a popular choice for night-like sequences. JetBlue bathes its cabins in a cobalt tint; Finnair flips on “Nordic blue” on flights to Finland; Virgin Atlantic shines “silver moonlight” for a starry night sky; and American Airlines dims its cabins to a deep blue to lull passengers to sleep.

But is blue really good for you? Research by Harvard Medical School shows that blue light, the kind emitted by the sun and the screens on our personal devices, is what keeps some of us awake. Not only does it decrease the secretion of melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep, it boosts our energy.

“The subjects exposed to blue light consistently rated less sleepy.” – Western Michigan University study

A study by Western Michigan University examining the effects of blue-light therapy on flight crews’ behavioral alertness showed that exposure to blue light improved their cognitive function even more than caffeine. “The subjects exposed to blue light consistently rated less sleepy, had quicker reaction times and had fewer lapses of attention during the performance tests,” the study reported. “Also, changes in their brain activity patterns indicated a more alert state.”

Blue light might help flight crews fight fatigue, but it definitely doesn’t benefit bedtime. The best light for a good flight’s sleep is none at all.

 “Blue” originally published in the 6.5 December/January issue of APEX Experience magazine.

Caroline is managing editor at APEX Media.