On the Night Shift

Apple adds a new feature to iOS in order to improve our health.

Think about those nights when you are lying in your bed, willingly awaiting prompt repose, but your brain is smoldering with thoughts and there are miles to go before sleep. Have you ever considered that the devices you are using at night may be contributing to this state of restlessness? Research is showing that the blue light that is emitted from the screens we stare at may be negatively impacting our sleep patterns.

Apple’s iOS 9.3, newly released in beta, has a feature they are calling “Night Shift,” that reduces the blue light that you screen emits, later on in the day. Ever since reading about Oyster’s Lumin feature and using f.lux on my iMac, I’ve been hoping this technology would come to iOS. Currently, the f.lux app is prohibited from running on iOS. Given this fact, as I mentioned on Twitter, if I could have asked for one iOS improvement, this would have been it.

As Apple points out in their release notes, exposure to blue light at night can be particularly disruptive to sleep and a device that automatically adjusts to account for this can be helpful to getting a good night’s rest.

Many studies have shown that exposure to bright blue light in the evening can affect your circadian rhythms and make it harder to fall asleep. Night Shift uses your iOS device’s clock and geolocation to determine when it’s sunset in your location.

Michael and Lorna of f.lux just released a statement that underscores the need for this feature and requests that their own app be allowed to run on iOS. The statement cites another potential benefit, beyond improvement in sleep rhythms, in the form of potential to reduce cancer risk, to those who are using screens at night.

There is a lot to be done. Indeed, workers on the “night shift” have nearly double the lifetime risk of cancer, and much of this is believed to be driven by exposure to bright light at the wrong times.

However, the argument by f.lux doesn’t really contain a compelling, concrete reason you would need their app after Night Shift has been implemented, beyond a promise for more innovation in the space. Elsewhere on their site, they also advocate for jailbreaking your iOS device to sideload the app, which I’m sure hardly endears them to those at Apple making decisions about these matters.

I believe that we are just beginning to understand the ramifications of some of the now ubiquitous technologies in our lives. In particular, technologies involving screens may affect attention, learning, chronobiology and cancer risk. I’m pleased to see Apple taking these considerations into account and providing mitigations to the risks that we are only just starting to realize and explore.

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