Can’t sleep? Insomnia troubling you? I have trouble sleeping (and this was before I had kids). As someone who paints miniatures at horrendous hours of the night (between 11-3am), sleep has always evaded me. And, little did I know my trouble sleeping was killing me, and my miniature hobbies were a part of this problem.
“How could your miniature hobby be hurting you?” you may ask.
Well, let me tell you.
- Bright lights that we use for painting miniatures can expose us to “blue light”, which disrupts sleep
- Blue light suppresses melatonin, a powerful hormone that regulates our internal awake-sleep clock
- Avoiding blue light and taking over-the-counter melatonin supplements can safely help you sleep better
In this article, I share what I learned after talking with my doctor about having trouble sleeping and how our miniature painting hobby might be harmful for getting a good night of sleep.
Hey, just a quick note. I’m not a sleep specialist. I hope that this article is helpful (and fun) for you. Truly, if you’re having issues with sleep take the advice you read on the back of any over-the-counter medicine: “consult with your physician”.
The Problem is Light
Did you know that light affects your body’s ability to sleep?
Read more about this below.
When you paint miniatures the best kind of lights are with bright LED daylight lamps. The brightness and color of light strongly affects how well you see your miniatures while you paint them.
Dim lights will make it hard to see contrast (the difference between light and dark values on your model). Badly colored light, like those of incandescent bulbs, can skew the way you add and mix colors on your miniatures or palette.
Miniature painting requires bright light with the correct color temperature. The best color temperature for painting miniatures falls within 5000 to 6000 Kelvin (K). This is essentially a white colored light that mimics sunlight during the day time.
In fact, I used to paint miniatures right next to a window so my hobby desk would get natural sunlight.
But, the problem with daylight, sunlight, or bright LED lamps is that they produce something called “blue light”.
What is Blue Light?
“Blue light” is light emitted in the blue wave length (400-500 nanometers or nm). Light has many colors, which are defined by their wavelength.
Blue light is beneficial in the daylight hours because it changes the way our bodies operate (a little more about the biology below). Blue light can boost attention, improve your ability to react to stimuli in the environment, and enhance your mood. Feeling “blue”? Get more “blue light”! (source).
How Does Blue Light Affect Sleep?
Everyone is different. Let’s get that out of the way. So, even if something affects the ability of a person to sleep, it may not do the same for someone else.
But, in general, blue light exposure can seriously damage your ability to fall asleep and stay sleeping.
Studies have shown that exposure to bright light at night can lead to chronic serious diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity (source).
More recent work has demonstrated that blue light, in particular, can supress a powerful hormone in your body called “melatonin” (source).
Melatonin’s job in your body is to help regulate your circadian rhythm (your internal night and day cycle). In the dark, your body naturally makes more melatonin, which means more a hormone that helps you feel sleepy. During the day time, more light decreases your body’s natural production of melatonin.
It doesn’t take much light to affect melatonin levels in your body. Very small amounts of lights just from a dim desk lamp can downshift your melatonin levels (source).
But, importantly, blue light emitted from any light source is particularly potent for suppressing melatonin, a chemical that makes you sleepier. And, the effect of lowered melatonin from blue light is long-lasting. In some studies, exposure to blue light keeps melatonin levels lower for up to 3 hours!
Where Does Blue Light Come From?
If you haven’t already guessed, blue light comes from every kind of visible light source, including the digital screen you’re using to read this right now.
There is already a lot of literature published on the topic of how using your smartphone or tablet at night can seriously damage your ability to sleep. These technology-driven behaviors might even be contributing reason for the rise in depression (source).
But, did you know that the bright lights you use for painting miniatures also emit lots of blue light. The wavelength of light from daylight bulbs and white-balanced lighting that are highly-prized in the miniature painting community are also a possible health hazard.
Bright LED lamps emit blue light. If you’re a miniature painter who paints at night, perhaps when the kids are asleep, then you’ve unknowingly exposed yourself to a powerful source of sleep-blocking light.
When I mentioned what my day was like to the doctor during a routine visit, he asked if I use my smartphone or watch TV at night. Of course, I answered that I did.
In fact, I said I use my iPad tablet and paint miniatures at the same time!
Blam. Bad news bears.
Obviously, he warned me about the hazards about blue light. And, being the inquisitive person that I am immediately took out my smartphone (ironically). Hence, spawned much of the information you are reading now.
Miniature Painting Lights are a Problem for Sleep: Now What?
Okay, so we’ve outlined the problem. Light exposure and blue light, especially, at night while painting is a huge contributor to sleep troubles.
The advice on how to get a better night’s sleep by avoiding blue light is endless. I’ve distilled a few points that I’m putting into practice.
- Avoid LED screens and other bright white-colored light sources (e.g,, smartphones, tablets, bright LED desk lamps for painting miniatures) 1-2 hours before bedtime. Most normal room lights are dim enough that they won’t significantly suppress melatonin. It’s the bright LED lights that should be avoided.
- Activate the night mode on your display devices, e.g., phone, which reduce the amount of emitted blue light. Some devices have automated night modes that activate at specific times of the evening.
- Try to keep a regular sleep schedule.
- Stay exposed to bright sunlight during the day time, which helps keep your internal day-night clock trained.
How to Keep Painting Miniatures at Night?
Alright, so you want to keep painting miniatures at night. Or, you may just want to assemble some models but your desk lamps are perfect for seeing those small parts.
Can you do anything to indulge in your hobby when the only time you have is at night?
You can do 1 of 3 things, or all of them. There are some compromises you’ll need to make. But, the end result might be better sleep and ultimately better health–which when you think about it may make it all worthwhile!
Here are the 3 things you can do to overcome sleeplessness from painting miniatures:
1. You can block the amount of blue light coming from your light sources
- Switch your daylight bulbs for dimmable blue light-blocking bulbs (LOHAS Sleep Aid Light Bulbs).
- Although the color temperature of these bulbs is warm, they are still bright enough for you to keep working on your models and miniatures.
- Like other LEDs, these bulbs don’t get hot and last a long time (up to 30,000 hours), so are very energy efficient and environmentally sustainable.
- Use LED Lamps with a night mode (TaoTronics TT-DL029 LED Desk Lamp).
- LED desk lamps provide ample light for painting miniatures, but there are particular types that are better for helping you sleep after working at night
- Get LED lamps that have a dimmable and color temperature setting (changing it toward the warm colored side will decrease exposure to the cooler, blue light that can disrupt melatonin levels and sleep)
2. You can wear blue light-blocking glasses or visors
- My wife bought me these pair of clip-on lenses (that fit over my normal glasses) (Clip-on Blue Blocking Amber Lenses).
- A few notes on these: they are clip-ons so you need to have regular eye wear to use these blue blocking lenses.
- They are amber-colored, so whatever you’re working on will be shaded a deep orange. It’s a tad disconcerting in the beginning, but I’ve gotten used to getting basic colors on my models. I can always check color tone and value with quick peaks outside the lenses or during the day.
- For less money ($10), and those who don’t wear glasses normally, I would take a look at these blue light blocking computer glasses (Uvex Skyper Blue Light Blocking Computer Glasses).
- As with above, there’s an amber or orange colored tint to what you see when you wear these lenses. That is the compromise you need to make to stop getting exposure to sleep disruptive blue light wavelength.
3. Take melatonin supplements
- You can buy melatonin supplements (Natrol Melatonin Fast Dissolve Tablets)
- Usage and safety concerns are addressed well in other places (see here). In general, melatonin taken as a supplemental sleep aid is considered safe, even for daily use. But as mentioned earlier, consult your physician to find out if melatonin is right for you.
- There are different doses of melatonin (2-10mg). Everyone is different and will respond differently.
- I personally found that 5-10mg about 20 minutes for bed brings on the sleepy, droopy eye feeling. This is exactly what I’m looking for.
- My doctor, whom I’ve mentioned above, recommended that I start at 2mg about 2 hours before I plan to sleep. I found that even when I do paint miniatures with bright LED lamps that melatonin works to knock me out.
- The idea behind melatonin supplements is to increase your melatonin levels around bedtime to help you feel sleepy. Note that from what I’ve read, higher doses of melatonin doesn’t mean it works better. In fact, a lower dose can work even better when taking at the right time.
- In short, if you’re unwilling to compromise the quality and brightness of your lights for painting miniatures, consider melatonin supplements.
It was a wake-up call when I discovered that some of the routine habits I have were actually hurting my ability to sleep. In general, I’ve removed as much blue light as I can from my night time habits. Activating night mode on my smart phone, reducing the brightness of my desk lamps, and taking melatonin when I need an extra kick to sleep have all helped. Blocking blue light when you want to paint miniatures would also be helpful, but you’re compromising the quality of the light you would want for seeing proper color and value.
Overall, the thing that helped me the most was simply awareness. Knowing that certain things in my hobby can be subtlety harmful has been empowering. And, at the end of the day, I’d like a tad more relaxation and that means a bit of hobby time and good sleep.
Do you have trouble sleeping? Have you considered any remedies that I haven’t mentioned? Let me know in a comment below!