Typically, when a software update becomes available for my iPhone, I ignore the first few notifications. After all, the installation itself puts the phone out of commission for about 20 minutes, the new features typically have a learning curve, and sometimes bugs become apparent (and I’d rather let other users report those to Apple first).
But when iOS 9.3 was released in late March, I greeted the software update like a child greets wrapped gifts on Christmas morning. With glee, I promptly installed it, and then just as quickly went to Settings-Display & Brightness to activate the best new feature: “Night Shift.”
Night Shift is Apple’s just released built-in blue light blocker to promote better sleep. As Apple states on its website, “Many studies have shown that exposure to bright blue light in the evening can affect your circadian rhythms and make it harder to fall asleep. Night Shift uses your iOS device’s clock and geolocation to determine when it’s sunset in your location, then it automatically shifts the colors in your display to the warmer end of the spectrum.” Night Shift also works for iPads, the e-reader of choice that many consumers presumably bring to bed.
There are many experts who are positing in the popular press that Night Shift won’t help most people with their sleep. They question if it’s blocking the exact wavelengths or if the blocking is to the appropriate amounts, among other issues. And I agree there are real concerns about whether the feature is more placebo than panacea. But my giddiness comes from a more primal place. I am ecstatic that a leading smart phone and tablet manufacturer has acknowledged the importance of sleep! And the prominence that Apple gave to this new feature in its marketing materials has started a nationwide conversation about sleep and electronics. Though we still have a long way to go to address the health effects of electronic devices on sleep, the addition of Night Shift to millions of consumers’ phones and e-readers is a landmark day for public awareness of sleep health.
For years, sleep professionals have known about household blue lights disrupting sleep likely via melatonin secretion delays. But the only real-life solutions available to offer patients were annoying and inconvenient. For example, the software f.lux also warms electronic displays…but when I tried to install it on my iPhone about two years ago, I demurred after realizing I’d have to jailbreak the phone. I then turned to blue-light-blocking glasses purchased online, but many nights I’m not motivated enough to dig them out and put them on. The convenience of Night Shift automatically activating and deactivating itself is invaluable. The warm screen after sundown is of value in and of itself as a reminder that my day needs to start winding down.
Night Shift is a noteworthy step forward inasmuch as it is a built-in conversation starter for doctors to discuss the significance of a good night’s sleep. Bring up the iPhone update as a segue to a discussion about sleep hygiene in general, including imparting the clinically sound advice of leaving the smart phone out of the bedroom entirely (gasp). Now if only the next update would lock me out of social media after dark, all of my sleep hygiene problems would likely be resolved…
Sree Roy is editor of Sleep Review.