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iOS 9.3: The new Night Shift feature probably won’t help you sleep better

Glenn Fleishman | March 28, 2016
There’s no solid evidence that mobile screens’ color temperature is the real culprit to keeping you up at night.

But beyond the variation, there’s the degree of blue removal. Ray Soneira, the president of DisplayMate, a company that makes video-diagnostic hardware and software, says that Night Shift and related software doesn’t turn down blue spectra in the correct range enough, thus not providing assistance even if other physiological factors prove true.

Via email, Dr. Soneira explains that he feels there’s a paucity of “understanding of displays, light spectra, or human color vision” among many researchers in the field that’s leading to a mismatch in what’s being tested and conclusions reached. As a result, those studies are influencing system design without a firm grounding.

In the case of Night Shift and similar systems, he argues that the blue component would need to be entirely removed or reduced significantly more than the systems offer, which in turn would make the display too yellow for most people. He writes, “Just slightly reducing the blue, which is what most apps do, won’t accomplish much, so the improvements people experience are often mostly due to placebo and their own conscious modification of their behavior in using displays.”

In any case, Dr. Figueiro says sleep research shows there’s an extremely important and often overlooked factor that requires more discipline than an automatic color-temperature adjustment. “Disruption of sleep is not just melatonin suppression; it’s what you’re doing to your brain to keep it alert,” she says. She recommends turning of all your screens two hours before going to bed. “These programs help, but they don’t completely remove the possibility of suppressing melatonin.”

But she’s not disregarding color as a factor. Instead of focusing on screens, her group is working on an app that would gather information about your light exposure across a day and make recommendations about the best times to get the right light. With remote-controlled, color-variable bulbs from Hue and others, she suggests a future in which this app could change overall lighting to fit your needs, and, just maybe, have a real impact on your sleep.


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