Why Using Night Mode on Your Phone Isn’t a Bright Idea
Night mode is like an organic cheesecake. It sounds healthy except it’s not. Before we get into the hows and whys, however, we need to clear out some fog. We’re not talking about Dark Mode that comes with fancy white text on a black background. We’re talking about its ancestor.
You know when it’s 7 p.m., and your phone screen suddenly decides to turn yellowish? That’s the one. Since 2016, Night Mode has been riding a hype train fueled with sexy scientific evidence. Evidence that recent research suggests it’s rubbish.
The (wrong) idea that gave birth to Night Mode
The science of Night Mode goes back to 1998 when a team of researchers discovered a light-sensitive protein dancing in your eye. They called it Melanopsin. We’ll call her Melany, because hey, why not?
While getting to know Melany, scientists noticed two things. One: she helps regulate your biological clock by detecting light. Two: Melany is particularly sensitive to blue light, which is abundant in sunlight.
When Melany sees blue light, she yells: “Wake up and stay up body!” And when she doesn’t, she sings sleepy-sleepy lullabies. From an evolutionary perspective, this feature was extremely helpful for our ancestors — it made energy levels consistent with solar activity. But with us, the descendants, it’s a different story.
Even in the dark, we’re constantly exposing ourselves to mini-suns called phones. While we do so, Melany strives to keep our bodies from falling asleep. And since bad sleep means bad everything, the mobile industry knew they had to address the Melany issue. War ensued.
Blue Light became an enemy the mobile industry fought with Night Mode. “No blue light, no sleep disruption” was their motto. Then, one day, science came knocking to point out it was all a big misunderstanding.
Night Mode is shielding you from the wrong enemy
In 2019, a research team from the University of Manchester decided to reunite with Melany. To better understand her role, they conducted harmless experiments on mice, and they claim that their findings also apply to humans.
It turns out Melany isn’t specifically sensitive to blue light. She is sensitive to brightness. The old scientists got confused because brightness is easier to detect on blueish lights than the rest of the color spectrum.
Time out one second here. This means that the whole “blue light is bad” thing is flawed. In reality, the real problem is “too much brightness during the night,” and that’s not the end of the story.
Manchester’s scientists added that Melany doesn’t work alone. She has coworkers that help her manage the body clock through color detection. These colleagues, known as Cone Cells, drew a ton of attention because they oppose the Night Mode idea.
For Cone Cells, warm lights represent daylight, and cold ones symbolize twilight. In other words, when your eyes catch your yellowish Night Mode, they think the sun is up and go, “Rise and shine! Don’t you dare fall asleep!”
That’s probably why you still have trouble sleeping at night despite your fancy Night Mode. Keyword being ‘probably.’
What the heck should you do with your screens?
The short answer boils down to imitating your environment by reversing your use of Night Mode. According to the University of Manchester, “using dim, cooler, lights in the evening and bright warmer lights in the day may be more beneficial.”
As for the longer answer, it involves common sense and an organic cheesecake. Really, your screen use at night is like eating a cheesecake. You can limit the side effects through healthier ingredients, but at the end of the day, you’re still overdosing on sugar and fat. The problem isn’t the quality of the ingredients; it’s the ingredients themselves.
Exposure to any kind of light during the night is bad for your sleep. Period.
So, until science and mobile tech sort out the Night Mode mess, your best bet is to put down your phone one to three hours before bedtime. Omg, what can you do instead? I’m sure you have a printed book you can pick up and a room that could use some cleaning. If you’re lucky enough to live with other humans, try hanging out with them. They usually don’t bite — unless you do first. Otherwise, you can draw, work out, or stretch.
Heck, you can even bake some cheesecake.