Wearing blue-light filtering glasses can improve work productivity and sleep

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Increased screen time is a near unavoidable consequence of modern life. Even if you stay away from computers, smartphones, and TVs in your free time, chances are you have to use a computer for your job. The blue-light emitted from these devices has been shown to disrupt sleeping patterns. Now, a new study finds that wearing blue-light filtering glasses in the evening can improve sleep and next day workplace productivity.

“We found that wearing blue-light-filtering glasses is an effective intervention to improve sleep, work engagement, task performance and organizational citizenship behavior, and reduced counterproductive work behavior,” says Cristiano L. Guarana, assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, in a release. “Wearing blue-light-filtering glasses creates a form of physiologic darkness, thus improving both sleep quantity and quality.”

While excessive screen time was certainly a concern before the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s undeniable that millions of people have spent more time staring at computers and phones this year due to lockdown measures. Similarly, plenty of employees have seen their screen time increase due to remote work.

“In general, the effects of wearing blue-light-filtering glasses were stronger for ‘night owls’ than for ‘morning larks,'” Guarana adds. “Owls tend to have sleep periods later in the day, whereas larks tend to have sleep periods early in the day.”

“Although most of us can benefit from reducing our exposure to blue light, owl employees seem to benefit more because they encounter greater misalignments between their internal clock and the externally controlled work time. Our model highlights how and when wearing blue-light-filtering glasses can help employees to live and work better,” she continues.

Providing blue light glasses to employees could greatly benefit companies

On a broader level, this research also indicates that one’s circadian rhythm plays an even larger role in daily engagement/productivity levels than previously thought. “Our research pushes the chronotype literature to consider the relationship between the timing of circadian processes and employees’ performance,” the study reads.

Of course, besides just individuals, these findings will likely be of interest to many employers and companies as well. After all, more refreshed and productive workers usually results in more profits.

“This study provides evidence of a very cost-effective means of improving employee sleep and work outcomes, and the implied return on investment is gigantic,” says study co-author Christopher Barnes, professor of management and the Evert McCabe Endowed Fellow at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. “I personally do not know of any other interventions that would be that powerful at that low of a cost.”

Data was collected from 63 company managers and 67 call center representatives for this research. Half the participating employees were given real blue-light filtering glasses to wear, while the other half only received placebos.

“Employees are often required to work early mornings, which may lead to a misalignment between their internal clock and the externally controlled work time,” researchers write.

“Blue-light exposure should also be of concern to organizations,” Guarana concludes. “The ubiquity of the phenomenon suggests that control of blue-light exposure may be a viable first step for organizations to protect the circadian cycles of their employees from disruption.”

The study is published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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