Like many groups, our practice shares backup call on a rotational basis. This week-long pleasure cruise is characterized by phone calls throughout the night (“Why are we checking a temperature on a comfortably sleeping 85-year-old at 2 a.m. again?”), dubious requests (“I am still unclear why you were cleaning out your medicine cabinet at 4 a.m. Even so, I cannot refill the oxycodone you just flushed down the toilet.”), and fragmented sleep associated with clinically significant carbohydrate cravings.
In the old days, this indispensable community service could be handled without the need for remoting into the practice. But most calls these days require that our computers be close at hand. As such, we find ourselves in the wee hours of morning staring at computer screens that, we are increasingly aware, emit melatonin-killing blue wavelengths of light. This makes it that much harder to go back to sleep after triaging colonoscopy-preps-gone-wrong calls.
Several months ago, one of my patients gave me orange-tinted, blue light–blocking (BB) glasses as a gift. These glasses are designed to filter out the blue wavelength (480 nm), which most strongly impacts alertness, cognitive performance, and circadian physiology.
They have collected dust on my desk. … until last week while on call.
In a recently published study, Stéphanie van der Lely of the University of Basel, Switzerland, and colleagues evaluated the impact of blue-blocker glasses as a countermeasure to evening computer screen time among adolescents (J. Adolesc. Health 2015;56:113-9). Thirteen adolescents with a mean age of 16 years participated in this crossover study over 16 days. Blue blockers were provided from 6 p.m. to sleep onset. Glasses reduced the blue light transmission to 30%.
Compared with clear lenses, BB significantly attenuated LED-induced melatonin suppression in the evening. BB glasses also decreased vigilant attention and subjective alertness before bedtime.
This article would suggest that my melatonin is not being suppressed while I wear the glasses as I do my evening article writing and answer phone calls. The color shifts take some getting used to, but the glasses are comfortable. In addition to sleeping in the attic, my backup call routine will include these glasses.
Now, if we can just find something to filter out midnight acetaminophen requests. At least I’ll fall back asleep quickly after telling them to take two and call me in the morning.
Dr. Ebbert is professor of medicine, a general internist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and a diplomate of the American Board of Addiction Medicine. The opinions expressed are those of the author. The opinions expressed in this article should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition nor should they be used as a substitute for medical advice from a qualified, board-certified practicing clinician.