Flickr/ozz13x and f.lux
I recently discovered an app that has completely revolutionized my nighttime computer usage. It's called f.lux, and frankly, you should've downloaded it yesterday.
F.lux is a free app for Mac, Windows, and Linux computers that makes the color of your display adapt to the time of day. It might help you catch some z's easier at night.
If you're anything like me, you spend the last half hour of the day curled in bed with a warm, humming computer in your lap. That 30-minute countdown to sleep is a chance for me to unwind with an article or a jaunt through my various social media channels. It soothes me.
Unfortunately, looking at your devices at night can actually make it harder to fall and stay asleep.
Screens produce blue light so we can see them even on sunny days. But at night, this brightness mimics the sun — sending mixed signals to the brain about what time is bedtime. The brain stops producing melatonin, a hormone that gives your body the "time to sleep" cues, and throws your circadian rhythm out of whack.
Skye Gould/Tech InsiderNot only does sleep suffer, but your risk goes up for ailments ranging from depression to cancer. Over time, not getting enough sleep can lead to a buildup of neurotoxins that make it even more challenging to doze off.
Knowing all this, there's still no way I'm giving up my screen time. It's my moment of zen.
So, at the recommendation of a friend, I downloaded f.lux, which automatically adjusts your screen's color-temperature depending on the time of day and your location. So when the sun sets on the west coast, any blue light emanating from my computer gradually changes to a reddish-orange hue.
Melia Robinson/Tech InsiderTo get started, I told f.lux my location and typical wake-up time. Based on these two metrics, the software figured out an approximate bedtime.
My first night after installing f.lux was very startling. Around 8 p.m., my screen began to dim and turned into a garish shade of apricot. As the night went on, reds deepened and blues continued to disappear. By the end of the hour, it was like I was wearing rose-colored glasses.
It took some getting used to. But within a week, I no longer noticed the change in color.
Occasionally I ran some digital errands, such as online shopping or editing photos, that required me to see true colors. I could disable f.lux for an hour or until sunrise in just two mouse-clicks. The convenient movie mode shut f.lux off for two and a half hours.
In preferences, the user can customize the timeline even further. You can pick a color for daytime, sunset, and bedtime between the very bright 6,4000 Kelvin and the tomato-red 1,200 Kelvin. I opted for the recommended palette.
I've been using f.lux for over a month now, and I can (unscientifically) say it's helping. Even after a marathon work-session runs into the evening, I pass out 10 minutes after my head hits the pillow. My headaches before bed are noticeably less severe, and I may have f.lux's reduced eye strain to thank.
It's possible my recent tiredness and a bout with a cold are contributing factors. There is plenty of research that analyzes blue light's effects, but less — though still some — on lower temperate screen color effects on sleep. Further testing is required.
The other advantage to using f.lux is that my nighttime computer use bothers my partner less now. The muted red light creates a much softer halo around my screen, so it doesn't disturb him. I feel like less of a nuisance.
F.lux is a "set it and forget it" kind of application, and I love that. If it were something I had to turn on every day, I'm almost positive I'd never remember.
And despite the mountains of scientific research that suggests staring at your smartphone or computer screen before bed is bad news, I don't expect any fewer people to indulge in this nighttime ritual. Fortunately, apps like f.lux make it impossibly easy to be kind on the eyes.