New eyeglasses might help warfighters get the sleep they need.
Military Health System officials are working on tinting for
lenses that can be worn an hour or two before bedtime, blocking the
light that blocks the brain’s production of melatonin, the chemical
that helps people sleep.
April 10, 2017 - Airmen at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, are illuminated by the glow of the blue light from their computer screens. Blue light blocks the brain's production of melatonin, an important chemical that helps people sleep. New lenses developed by the Navy are designed to be worn for a couple of hours before bedtime and will block the blue light, allowing warfighters to get better sleep.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Greg L. Davis)
“Sleep deprivation has been a significant and well-documented
issue for service members,” said Navy Cmdr. Marc Herwitz, the chief
ancillary informatics officer for the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine. “It
has been especially problematic for those on changing shift work
schedules and those who work continuously under artificial
lighting.” The Navy is responsible to the Defense Department for the
manufacture of glasses and ballistic eyewear.
comes from numerous natural and artificial sources,” Herwitz said.
“Some of the artificial sources include computers, tablets, cell
phones and overhead lighting. This blue light suppresses the brain’s
production of melatonin and keeps people from sleeping.”
Lenses Block 70 Percent of Blue Light
Herwitz said using materials now available, the Naval Ophthalmic
Support and Training Activity crafted a tint for safety lenses that
blocks about 70 percent of blue light. Adding the tint to the lenses
is inexpensive -- about the same cost as adding tinting to a pair of
glasses -- and easily done, he added.
These tinted lenses are
not intended to be worn all the time, Herwitz said, because people
need to be alert on the job. But they can be useful as the day winds
down, he explained, and suppression of blue light helps to bring on
the urge to sleep. Anecdotal evidence showed the lenses are
effective, but research seeks confirmation, he said.
completed a preliminary study with the use of these
blue-light-blocking lenses in a group of active duty military
members deployed in military facilities,” said Nita Shattuck, a
fatigue and sleep expert at the Naval Postgraduate School in
Monterey, California. “We’re still evaluating all the data and
creating control measures to test, but the results are very
promising so far.”
In fact, Shattuck said, people who wore the glasses for two
hours before going to bed fell asleep about 30 percent faster than
those who didn’t use them. If successful, she added, the lenses
could make a big difference in the sleep warfighters get, especially
those who do shift work and have to sleep at times against the
body’s natural rhythms.
“They’re getting more sleep,” Shattuck said, “which improves their
mood and makes them less likely to be drowsy when we need them to be
alert, such as when they perform security duties. Nodding off is
just not an option.”
Herwitz said that depending on the
results of Shattuck’s research, better sleep produced by the tinted
lenses could make better warfighters.
application has the potential to enhance the readiness, safety and
productivity of service members and improve their quality of life,”
he said. “We can help them sleep, wherever they might be.”
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