Lighting Research Center Study Tests the Effectiveness of Apple’s iPad Night Shift Application
Changing screen color is insufficient for limiting melatonin suppression, screen brightness should also be reduced
Troy, N.Y. – The light emitted by portable electronic devices (PEDs), particularly when used at night, has drawn a great deal of interest among sleep researchers, healthcare professionals, and the media. Research shows that exposure to light at night (LAN) may be associated with poor sleep and may lead to diminished alertness and performance throughout the day. Exposure to LAN can also acutely suppress melatonin, a hormone produced at night and in darkness, which tells the body it is nighttime. The short-wavelength “blue” light emitted by electronics can be especially disruptive to melatonin production, and the proximity to the eye when PEDs are in use only aggravates the threat to getting a good night’s sleep.
In an effort to address this problem, in 2016 Apple Inc. released the Night Shift application for its line of PEDs, notably including the iPad, which in the third quarter of 2017 was the world’s most popular computer tablet and accounted for 25% of the year’s global tablet sales. The Night Shift mode permits users to change the screen’s color to “more warm” (i.e., less blue light) or “less warm” (i.e., more blue light), without necessarily changing its brightness. A new study from the Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute investigated the effectiveness of Night Shift for lessening the impacts of nighttime iPad use on melatonin suppression, a marker of the circadian system. The study, published by the peer-reviewed journal Lighting Research & Technology, is now available online at http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1477153517748189.
In the study, Dr. Mariana Figueiro and a team of LRC researchers recruited 12 young adults to view iPads between 11:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. on four separate nights under four experimental conditions. One of the study’s conditions deliberately suppressed participants’ melatonin levels by delivering a blue light intervention to the participants’ eyes via light-emitting diode (LED) goggles designed by the LRC. A second condition occurred in dim light (< 5 lux), where participants wore orange goggles that filtered blue light, which served as the control for the baseline melatonin suppression calculations. The study also used two spectrally distinct lighting interventions for the iPad that were generated by adjusting the ‘color temperature’ slide control of the device’s Night Shift application to either extreme of its more warm (2837 K) or less warm (5997 K) range. LRC researchers independently measured the correlated color temperature (CCT) of each Night Shift setting as part of the study. Participants exposed to the Night Shift Low CCT (more warm) and Night Shift High CCT (less warm) interventions wore lensless eyeglasses frames fitted with an LRC-developed circadian light meter called a Dimesimeter, which measured eye-level light exposures. Data from the Dimesimeter was used to calculate the circadian stimulus (CS) received by participants during the experiment. Using the LRC’s CS Calculator, LRC researchers were able to closely predict the amount of melatonin suppression that was recorded for the participants.
Results showed that all three lighting interventions significantly suppressed melatonin over the two hours of each study night. More importantly, there was no significant difference between the effectiveness of the two Night Shift settings. The study’s main takeaway is that changing screen color alone is insufficient for limiting the impact of PEDs on melatonin levels in the evening, and that screen brightness should also be reduced.
Overall, the results of this LRC study may be useful for developers, manufacturers, and users of self-luminous electronic devices by emphasizing considerations other than light spectrum when designing and using display applications for health and wellbeing. In addition to spectral properties, LRC researchers recommend that users also consider lowering the amount of light emitted by PEDs by keeping light levels low, limiting the use of PEDs to one-hour sessions, and avoiding exposures starting at least two hours before bedtime. Better yet, LRC researchers recommend turning off PEDs at least two hours prior to desired bedtimes. Even if melatonin is not suppressed during this interval, these devices can be alerting to the brain and, as a result, can disrupt sleep.
About the Lighting Research Center
The Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is the world’s leading center for lighting research and education. Established in 1988 by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the LRC has been pioneering research in solid-state lighting, light and health, transportation lighting and safety, and energy efficiency for nearly 30 years. LRC lighting scientists with multidisciplinary expertise in research, technology, design, and human factors, collaborate with a global network of leading manufacturers and government agencies, developing innovative lighting solutions for projects that range from the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to U.S. Navy submarines to hospital neonatal intensive-care units. LRC researchers conduct independent, third-party testing of lighting products in the LRC’s state of the art photometric laboratories, the only university lighting laboratories accredited by the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP Lab Code: 200480-0). In 1990, the LRC became the first university research center to offer graduate degrees in lighting and today, offers a M.S. in lighting and a Ph.D. to educate future leaders in lighting. With 35 full-time faculty and staff, 15 graduate students, and a 30,000 sq. ft. laboratory space, the LRC is the largest university-based lighting research and education organization in the world.
About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is America’s first technological research university. The university offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in engineering; the sciences; information technology and web sciences; architecture; management; and the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Rensselaer faculty advance research in a wide range of fields, with an emphasis on biotechnology, nanotechnology, computational science and engineering, data science, and the media arts and technology. The Institute has an established record of success in the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the marketplace, fulfilling its founding mission of applying science “to the common purposes of life.”