Episode 077: The Pros and Cons of Blue Light and How to Get Quality Sleep with James Swanwick

The Pros and Cons of Blue Light and How to Get Quality Sleep with James Swanwick

You’ve probably heard about blue light, but just how much do you really know about it?

In this episode, I'm joined by James Swanwick, an Australian-American investor, entrepreneur, speaker, former SportsCenter anchor on ESPN, host of The James Swanwick Show podcast and the author of The 30 Day No Alcohol Challenge. He’s also a founder of Swanwick Sleep, a company dedicated to helping people get a restful night’s sleep by providing blue light protection glasses.

In this episode, you’ll hear James share:

  • What exactly is blue light and how it affects our bodies

  • How blue light blocking glasses work and what are the most effective kinds for helping with sleep

  • What apps supplement blue light blocking glasses

  • And he even shares his gold standard for getting a good night’s sleep


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Naomi N: Welcome back to The Live FAB Life Podcast. I'm your host, Naomi Nakamura, and today I have a super important question for you.

How's your sleep? Do you get a restful eight to nine hours of sleep every night? Do you wake-up refreshed every morning feeling like a new person?

I believe in total transparency, so I will tell you that sleep is an area that I continually struggle with.

I have dialed in on what diet works for me. I exercise regularly. I've made a host of changes in my home and in the products that I use every day to reduce my toxic load. I do a lot of personal development work to support my mind and my spirit, but sleep, it is still an issue for me and I know, I know for a fact it is for many of you too. Now, one area that is gaining a lot of attention these days is around blue light exposure and unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard about blue light.

I mean these days, our cell phones and these other devices that we have, they come with built-in settings or apps that we can download that we can turn on to protect ourselves from blue light. But how much do you really know about blue light? So joining me today is James Swanwick. James is an Australian-American investor and entrepreneur, speaker, former sports center anchor on ESPN, host of the James Swanwick Show podcast. And he's also the author of the 30-Day No Alcohol Challenge, which we do talk about a little bit in the episode.

Forbes magazine has listed James as one of 25 professional networking experts to watch. He is a self-proclaimed healthpreneur in that he builds companies that help people with their health. And one of the companies that he's built is Swanwick Sleep. And it's a company dedicated entirely to helping people get a good night's sleep by providing blue light protection glasses and some other products to help you with your sleep.

So in this episode, you will hear James share what exactly is blue light and when is it healthy for us and when is it not? You'll hear him talk about how blue light affects our bodies. How blue light blocking glasses work, and just what makes them effective. What kinds of blue light blocking glasses are the most effective when it comes to helping us sleep? What apps to use to supplement these glasses, and he even shares with us what does his gold standard for getting a good night's sleep.

Now, be sure to check out the show notes for this episode, which you can find over at www.livefablife.com/077 for episode 77 and this is where you can find the links to all of the resources and things that we mentioned in this episode, including where you can get your own pair of Swannies, the blue light blocking glasses where health meet style. And I'll also include links to where you can connect with James on social media too. So without further ado, let's get to the show. Hi, James, welcome to the show.

James Swanwick: Thank you so much for having me. It's great to be here.

Naomi N: It's great to have you. I've been looking forward to this interview because I have sleep problems.

James Swanwick: Oh, well, we'll fix those pretty quickly.

Naomi N: So why don't you introduce yourself and tell the audience who you are and what is it that you do?

James Swanwick: Sure. My name is James. I'm from the east coast of Australia in Brisbane, but I'm living in Los Angeles at the moment and I guess you could call me a healthpreneur in the sense that I build companies that help people with their health. More specifically, I help people sleep better and I help people reduce or quit alcohol. Yeah. My main sleep company is called Swanwick Sleep and we create these Blue Light Blocking Glasses with an orange lens in them, which blocks out the artificial blue light from your cell phone, your TV screen, your iPads, your kitchen light, bathroom, light and all of that life disrupts your sleep.

And so my Swannies Blue Light Blocking Glasses blocks that blue light and therefore it helps you sleep better, and then I have a business that helps people quit drinking. I created a program called the 30-Day No Alcohol Challenge about four years ago, which has helped tens of thousands of people quit drinking for at least 30 days. And now, more specifically, I help entrepreneurs quit drinking for at least 90 days. I haven't drunk in let's say nine years. I wasn't an alcoholic. I was just a lifestyle drinker, but I quit and I feel amazing and now I teach people how to quit and stay quite as well.

Naomi N: That is so interesting and we're going to talk more about sleep in this episode, but I don't drink myself, I never have, but I have a few colleagues who are also nutritionists and their business has really evolved to help people do exactly what you said, quit drinking. And I have a friend who really focuses on gray area drinking. I had her on the podcast before and it was one of the most popular episodes I've had on the show.

James Swanwick: Well, drinking is so ingrained in our culture and I think that anytime you present a different way of looking at that end and you present that alcohol-free living is just a hundred times better than alcohol living. Even if you're not an alcoholic, even if you're just an occasional drinker, then it's amazing that the health benefits that you can get from living that alcohol-free lifestyle.

Naomi N: It's crazy. So getting back to sleep, how did you get into the sleep business?

James Swanwick: Yeah, well, my sleep was always okay. It wasn't horrible. It wasn't outstanding. It was just six and a half or a seven out of 10 it was okay. Some nights I'd get seven or eight hours sleep and think that that was great, but I'd still wake up in the morning feeling a little tired, a little irritable. Other nights, I'd have trouble falling asleep. Other nights, I might wake up a few times and have trouble getting to sleep, but it wasn't a disaster was okay. And then I was in Palm Springs, California in a hotel restaurant with a friend of mine, Mark, and he was wearing this really ugly pair of goggles out to dinner, like these orange lens goggles. Kind of like safety glasses that you might wear if you were at a gun range or if you were mowing the law and trying to protect your eyes from flying stones.

Naomi N: I have had one of those.

James Swanwick: So you know that it's not a good look to where those things.

Naomi N: No, no and that's why I have my own pair Swannies right now.

James Swanwick: Yeah. I was out at this dinner and he was wearing these glasses and adjacent to our table there was a table of very attractive young women who were dining. And I said to my friend Mark, I said, "Mark, you look ridiculous and you're making me look ridiculous by association." And he said, "No, man, I'm trying to block the blue light," and I said, "Block the blue light. What are you talking about?" And then he went onto explain to me that the hotel restaurant lights we're emitting an artificial blue light, which at nighttime tricks our body and brain into thinking that it's daytime. And so when our body and brain thinks it's daytime, we do not produce as much Melatonin, which means when we ultimately try to go to sleep later, it's a little bit harder to fall asleep. We don't sleep as deeply and ultimately we wake up, still feeling tired, even if we've had seven or eight hours sleep.

And he went on to explain that too much light at night is destroying our sleep and it's the light, not just from our cell phone or from our TV screen or I iPads, but also from our kitchen light, our bathroom light, our reading light, the speedometer light in your car, the traffic lights, the streetlights, too much light at night is destroying our sleep. The only problem was is that I didn't want to block blue light looking like a meth chemist, so I set out to design a stylish pair of blue light blocking glasses because I'm just vain enough that I wanted to kind of look cool and look stylish while protecting my eyes. And so I created this product called Swannies, they're blue light blocking glasses.

It's where health meets style and because they're stylish, I'm motivated to want to wear them every single night and because I wear them every single night, I sleep the way nature intended me to sleep almost every single night. That's how it all began. I guess you could say it began because someone that I knew was taking it seriously enough to block the blue light. The fact that I didn't want to look ridiculous and the fact that I wanted to look kind of cool and stylish.

Naomi N: Getting back to blue light, can you explain exactly what it is? I feel some people know about it now. I work in Silicon Valley and so I think it's something that needs to be talked about more, especially in this area because we're in front of our devices all the time, but for people who don't really understand what it is, what is blue light?

James Swanwick: Well, blue light is actually okay for us because the sun is the biggest emitter of blue light and blue light during the day time, natural blue light is actually healthy for us. We need it to survive. The problem is is that blue light at night time is not good for us and what blue light actually does is that it stimulates our pituitary and pineal glands. Now, during the daytime, we want our pituitary and pineal gland stimulated because it's daytime, right? This is what gives us energy, it gives us clarity, focus. It makes us live life. The issue though is that, well there're two issues. The first one is blue light at night is stimulating that pituitary and pineal gland tricking our body and brain into thinking that it's still daytime. Therefore, our body and brain does not produce Melatonin and therefore we don't sleep as well. The other issue during the daytime is that we're staring into this computer screen and the iPad screen and the phone screen during the daytime.

Now, I did say that blue light in the daytime is not that bad for you but concentrated blue light that you're staring into just a foot from your face, as we do when we look at a computer or as we do as we're on a phone, is very bad for you because it gives you eyestrain, headaches, fatigue. They can cause macular degeneration, a whole host of concentration-type issues. So staring into that very concentrated blue light from your screens for a prolonged period of time is causing us all kinds of health problems, which is why during the daytime when we're out outside we want to get as much blue light as possible. During the day time as we're staring into a screen, we want to filter a lot of blue light, not all of it, but we want to block some of the blue light from our screens. And then at nighttime, we want to block almost all of that blue light, so we can sleep better.

Naomi N: Got it. And I was going to ask you about that because they see you're wearing your glasses now. I wasn't wearing mine because I thought, "Well, it's daytime," but I didn't realize that concentration from being at the screen all day, which I am I, I'm at my computer all day and we all have our phones. We're on our devices all the time. You mentioned that blue light also comes from other sources. And I always thought of it as our devices as our screens, our television, but it's in other places that's not necessarily those things?

James Swanwick: Yeah. I mean most artificial light, that isn't candlelight, emit some kind of light that's bad for us. Think about your kitchen light. When you brush your teeth in the bathroom before you go to sleep is there a light on? There is, right?

Naomi N: There is.

James Swanwick: So there's a light. So that light, there's every chance that light is emitting an artificial blue light and that artificial blue light is keeping you awake. So even if you're preparing for sleep and you're not staring at screens, you're not watching TV and you're thinking, "Wow, I'm so clever. I'm so smart because I have no screens on in the last hour before sleep." Then you go and brush your teeth in the bathroom light. Well, guess what? Now, you're tricking your body-brain into thinking that it's daytime again and now you're compromising your Melatonin production, which means you're compromising your sleep quality. So yeah, blue light is in most of our artificial light sources.

Naomi N: I'm laughing to myself a little bit because what you just described was me. I really wanted to stick my circadian rhythms to that to the season. And during the winter time, I tend to shut off the lights in my home, dim everything down and turn off my devices. But yet what you said is exactly what happens. You go into the bathroom, you wash up, brush his teeth, light's on in the bedrooms. So explain to us exactly how do these blue light blocking glasses work? They just block only that one light?

James Swanwick: Yeah, well, it's an orange lens. So you and I are wearing the Swannies from my company, Swanwick, and it's an orange lens. Well, first of all, the color orange is the exact opposite of the color blue. So blue light cannot penetrate an orange lens, but more specifically there's a wavelength of blue light that is responsible for messing with your sleep, okay. Scientists and doctors and vision experts all agree that the wavelength of blue light that messes with your sleep is between 450 and 520 nanometers. Okay?

So we don't need to go into the specifics of what all that means. But just know that if protecting your sleep is important to you, you must block between 450 and 520 nanometers of blue light wavelength. Now, our lens, the only lens that can block between 450 and 520 nanometers is an orange lens. It is a physical impossibility in the known universe that anything other than an orange lens can block the blue light responsible for messing with your sleep. Now, there are many blue light blocking glasses companies on the market and some of them have an amber lens and some of them have a clear lens. And I can tell you definitively that those companies, if they ever claim that wearing those glasses help you sleep better, unfortunately, it's just not physically possible.

Now, those glasses definitely can help you during the daytime because they filter some of the blue light. They do block some blue light, but they don't block 450 to 520 nanometers, which is responsible for messing with your sleep. So to answer your question, how do these work? Because they are an orange lens and they block up to 520 nanometers of blue light. These help you sleep better because they block that light that tricks your body and brain into thinking that it's daytime. If you have an amber lens or if you have a clear lens, they do not help you with your sleep. They may help you with concentration and focus and energy throughout the daytime.

Naomi N: That's great to know. I know for myself when I first learned about blue light being an issue a few years ago and I went on Amazon and you know you don't know what you're looking for and you have all of these things come up and so that is some great shopping information. Just look for the orange and understand that amber and clear may not be as effective. There're a couple of other tools that are available and I want to get your thoughts on how effective those are. On our smartphones, we have a setting where we can turn on, I think it's called Night Mode or Night Shift, and then there's also an APP that I have on my computer called f.lux. How effective are those in blocking the blue light as well?

James Swanwick: I would say they give you about a three out of 10 coverage. So they're good, but they're not great. So for sure I always recommend to people definitely use Night Shift on your iPhone. Use Twilight on your Android, use f.lux on your computer, and those apps or those settings do give you some protection from blue light, 100% they do. However, they don't block the bathroom light, the kitchen light, the TV screen light, the IPAD light, the alarm clock light, the reading light, the speedometer light, the microwave light and so on and so on and so on, the McDonald's Golden Arches light that you see as you're driving along the freeway. So the only way to give you comprehensive coverage of blocking blue light is to wear a pair of blue light blocking glasses. And I recommend people who get these, the glasses that you and I are both wearing now the Swannies Blue Light Blocking Glasses is wear them in conjunction with using f.lux And using Twilight and using Night Shift.

Naomi N: Okay, good advice. Are there any other tools or practices that you recommend other than using blue light blocking glasses for a more restful night's sleep? We talked about Melatonin and how Melatonin drains us and so a lot of us supplement with Melatonin and I know that I did for years. What are some other practices that you recommend?

James Swanwick: Well, first of all, I would get off the Melatonin. I mean you can use Melatonin here and there if you're really struggling, you could use it once every month or so if you're going on a trip and you're jet-lagged and you really want to knock yourself out, then sure. But if you use that regularly, then your body will become dependent on it and you'll stop creating your own natural source of Melatonin. That's a real problem. So I would get off the Melatonin.

Here's the gold standard for the best sleep. When you wake-up in the morning, the first thing you should do is go outside or stand by a window and let the natural sunlight hit your body. And when the natural sunlight hits your skin, your skin has receptors in it and those receptors tell your body, "This is wake-up time." Now, that is actually going to trigger Melatonin production about 14 to 16 hours later. But the issue is is that your body doesn't start to trigger that Melatonin if you're not exposing yourself to natural daylight in the morning. So you want to, really when you wake-up, instead of staying indoors for two hours, you want to go outside and let the sunlight hit your skin. That will help you sleep better.

Now, many people, especially in a northern hemisphere winter say, "Well hang on, the sun doesn't get up until after seven, 7:30, and sometimes by the time I get up and get ready and go to work, the sun's still not up." There's a couple of things you can do there. One is just get that natural sunlight as just as soon as you can in the morning. The other thing is is that you can buy a special light. There's a light, an alarm light from Phillips, which is called the Wake-Up Alarm Light and that can blast you with a very concentrated amount of blue light in the morning, which kind of mimics the sun's rays as much as possible, but nothing beats getting natural sunlight obviously, but if that's impossible or challenging, then get one of those GoodNight light bulbs, which will mimic the sun's rays.

Morning exercise. Studies have shown that people who exercise in the morning sleep better at night. No caffeine after 2:00 PM. No alcohol within a couple of hours of going to sleep. Some people will say, "Well, hang on a second, I have a coffee with dinner or after dinner and I'm fine. I fall asleep just fine." That may be true. You may fall asleep just fine, but your quality of sleep is severely compromised because whether you like it or not, coffee is a stimulant. And even if you can fall asleep quickly, because it's a stimulant, your body is not relaxing, your body is not in that deep REM restorative phase for as long as it naturally wants to be. Likewise, with alcohol, people say, "Oh, but I have a glass of wine to relax at night. It helps me feel sleepy and not often go to sleep."

That may be true, but guess what? Your sleep quality is still going to be compromised because now your liver is trying to break down that wine, those toxins, that poison. Now, you're not sleeping as deeply as nature intended you to sleep, which means you now waking up feeling tired and lethargic and the whole vicious cycle starts again. Honestly, the best thing you can do for sleep is get morning sunlight and then live your nighttime by candlelight and candlelight only, but no one's going to do that. It's 2019 are you going to live your entire life by candlelight?

I'm looking at, as we're recording this right now, I can see the back of your vision there, Naomi, you've got a TV screen, and you've got a light on a staff, right? Like a lamp there, and we're recording this on a computer screen and so we're both staring into a screen. The likelihood of us living our life by candlelight is kind of slim. So all we can do is the best we can, and the best we can is exposing ourselves to as much blue light as possible during the morning and blocking almost all of it at night.

Naomi N: That's great advice. I used to be somebody who would get out first thing in the morning and go for a run and my schedule's changed a little bit, but I did that today and I feel a lot better. So that's some really great advice, especially for this time of the year. How can people find out more about you and connect with you and find out more about Swannie Sleep?

James Swanwick: Yeah. So if you're interested in learning about the glasses and we have sleep products and sleep masks and some natural supplements, you can just go to swanwicksleep.com, S-W-A-N-W-I-C-K and also follow me on Instagram and send me a DM that you heard me on this podcast. I love answering questions about sleep or quitting alcohol on my Instagram as well.

Naomi N: Awesome. And I want to have links to all of those in the show notes as well as for the different resources that you mentioned in the episode. I know that's like I said, sleep is a big challenge of mine. It has been for my entire life. Definitely going to incorporate some of the advice that you shared with us and start using my glasses more often. I think that I would probably say I'm using them a couple times a week, not every night, but that is going to change. And I know that it's something that my listeners have struggled with as well. But a year ago, a friend and I, we ran a really informal sleep challenge on Instagram and we got so much feedback and questions about it, so I know that this is information that people really need to hear and to take seriously. So really thank you so much for the work that you do coming on and sharing it with us.

James Swanwick: Thanks for having me.


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Naomi Nakamura is a certified Holistic Health Coach who takes a holistic approach through functional nutrition. Through her weekly show, The Live FAB Live Podcast, coaching programs, and safer skincare solutions, she helps people with acne and other chronic skin issues clear up their skin by teaching them where food meets physiology and how food, gut health, stress, and toxins are intricately connected to the health and appearance of our skin. Naomi resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and can often be found romping around the city with her puppy girl, Coco Pop! Connect with Naomi at: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest.