Why Apple should rename it’s Nightstand mode to Stand mode

As I am getting older, I am becoming a much poorer sleeper. This is nothing unusual and if you generally still sleep well, consider yourself lucky. But … maybe you could even sleep better.

After reading Matthew Walker’s bestseller Why We Sleep — Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams I became a bit alert. There are so many things that obviously disturb my sleep (sometimes I don’t even notice it) and that disruption — in the long run — fosters the invisible degeneration of my brain and body. Dementia is coming for me.

I decided to take some measures.

The blue light (especially frequencies around 400–480 nm) is one of most common spoilers. Don’t get me wrong: the blue component of a visible light is essential for our circadian rhythms and for melatonin production (which is essential for good sleep). The problem is you have to be exposed to it from the moment you wake up until … until a moment you, simply put, eat your dinner. Being exposed after 9 p.m. is bad for your sleep, for falling asleep, for your sleep cycles and incrementally dangerous for your health; or let’s put this in completely honest terms: it is toxic. (Please, do not confuse this with the potentially harmful effect on the macula being exposed to direct UV or strong blue light).

You may have noticed mass media has started to be aware of the “blue light disturbs sleep” problem over the last few years. Scientists and journalists explain that common LED light sources (LCD/OLED monitors, displays, TVs, LED bulbs and simple LED diodes etc.) emit more blue light than is considered healthy (if you are exposed to it after 9pm). To make matters worse: even very short exposure to low blue light during the night or at night can reset the circadian rhythm response.

See this article in the Guardian or this Harvard article both of which explain the problems with blue light better than I can. Or hurry to Systematic review… which comprehensively covers various studies on this topic.

It is surprising that even under the weight of the growing evidence that most of the major manufacturers still do not normally offer standard lightbulbs that emit no harmful frequencies (or auto-adjusting ones that can do this in the evening). Yes, you can buy “warm/soft light” bulbs (2300 and even 2200K), or even these SceneSwitch bulbs, but it is still not enough, because it still contains these sinister blue beams. You can find some progressive manufacturers’ expensive light solutions… or you can use red glasses in the evening to filter the the blue light out. Or maybe, as my friend and light expert Hynek Medricky says: go to bed early, because night is for sleep — as our ancestors did for centuries.

The blue light frequency is nearly completely missing in fire or in sunlight during dawn.
The blue light frequency is nearly completely missing in fire or in sunlight during dawn.

But that ain’t so easy for rest of us, dear Hynek! I asked him to measure the light spectrum of nearly all the light sources I could find in my home. The results were nothing surprising for him, but were scary for me — nearly all my bulbs and appliances are emitting a huuuuge amount of low-frequency blue-light. And we have been using them regulary until midnight. Plus: all of those small blue and green “charging” and “standby” LEDs are evil too — they could be really nasty sources of sleep disruption even if you only have one in your bedroom (and red LEDs were generally much less toxic). And so we are back to my revelation! What I was really surprised by was the fact that one of the companies which I admire for it’s environmental vision and emphasis on health missed the news too: Apple.

The Apple Watch Nightstand mode problem

If you are the owner of the Apple Watch, you probably know that there is this special Nightstand mode, that activates whenever you put your precious Watch on the charger. In that case, your watch’s displays changes to a simple digital watch showing the time. The time indicator is on for 10–15 seconds from the moment you start charging or move the Watch. The idea behind is simple: you put your watch on your nightstand and the display goes off to ease your sleep; if you want to see the time (which is not a good decision especially for insomniacs, but that is another story), you do not have to scrabble around for the gadget to switch it’s display on, because just moving very slightly with the table/watch is enough to turn it on. That all is a good, cleverly Apple’ish solution.

The curious thing was that when Hynek dropped by with his $3690 spectrometer (UPRtek 350 S Premium) to see if the watch’s green light contains a blue light frequencies (because green light often contains blue light and the Nightstand mode is displayed in green). I was perplexed:

The blue hump on the left side is probably not so good for your sleep.
The blue hump on the left side is probably not so good for your sleep.

As you can see from the spectrogram, an Apple Watch in Nightstand mode emits sleep-disturbing blue light (on the left side of the spectrogram). Not too much but accordingly to studies this could be enough to disturb your sleep by stopping or slowing down melatonin production. It’s that simple: if you wake up during the night and want to know the time, an Apple Watch will mess with your sleep…

It’s a shame that after developing the insufficient but better than nothing Nightshift mode Apple did not updated the WatchOS at least in the same direction. Understanding the importance of night sleep is great, but Apple could do a lot more for us. At least, it should update a color of the Nightstand mode from green to red (or it should rename it to Stand mode only).

TIP: if you want to spent some time with your iPhone or iPad during the night (or at night), do not forget to use “real Nightshift” mode, which really works. This simple trick can do a lot for your sleep. Warning: if you own an iPhone X or XS (with OLED instead of LED display technology), the blue-light filtering after applying a red filter will be 100%. It leaks blue light on an LED display because it is underlit.