Thanks to computers, smartphones and TVs, you stare at screens for most of the day. What you may not know though is that these screens emit blue light that can damage your eyes and cause other health issues. These issues can be detected by regular eye exams. Here’s a closer look at blue light, how it affects your vision and what you can do to prevent problems.
What is Blue Light?
Not sure what blue light is? Let’s refresh your memory with some science. The human eye is sensitive to short wavelengths of visible light. “Visible light” is just the phrase that we use to describe light that the human eye is capable of seeing. Blue light, like the kind emitted from electronic devices, falls on the short end of the spectrum. There are pros and cons to blue light exposure. In small amounts, blue light actually affords some benefits. Exposure to small amounts can increase your overall feeling of well-being. Too much exposure, however, may adversely affect your health.
Eye Health and Blue Light
For years, it’s been suggested that blue light from electronics, including phones and tablets, damages your eyes. The American Academy of Ophthalmology disagrees. No conclusive evidence says that blue light from technology affects your eyes, even for people who stare at screens all day. There are other problems with staring at screens, though. Eye strain is a real problem for the modern worker, but that has nothing to do with the light being emitted from your laptop.
Still, some experts argue that blue light itself puts a huge strain on your eyes and that it can cause oxidative damage. Studies suggest that oxidative damage plays a significant role in macular degeneration that occurs with age. As macular degeneration worsens, it causes significant vision loss.
To make matters worse, a recent study suggests that blue light presents a bigger problem for children. Their eyes absorb more blue light from digital screens than adults. The study warns that parents may be allowing their children to spend too much time on digital devices, which damages their eyes. Researchers are also exploring the possibility that too much exposure to blue light can cause cataracts later in life. It’s important to get your children’s eye sight checked once or twice a year early on, especially since computer, phone and TV screens are being introduced to these little eyes earlier in life.
Beyond Vision – The Impact of Blue Light on Sleep
Blue light’s impact on eye health may be debatable, but its negative effect on sleep isn’t. This kind of light can interfere with your natural sleep cycle because the brain confuses blue light with sunlight. In fact, sunlight emits the greatest amount of natural blue light, making it a huge and unavoidable part of daily life.
Because your brain confuses blue light with sunlight, it won’t produce the necessary melatonin to help you fall asleep, which can lead to a host of problems. Sleep deprivation can make it harder for you to learn, make decisions or function properly. It’s also harder on your day-to-day memory. To make matters worse, not getting enough sleep at night can lead to a buildup of neurotoxins, which makes it harder for you to get quality rest when you do finally fall asleep.
Disruptions in melatonin production can cause other problems in your body as well. People with low levels of melatonin are more prone to psychological issues, such as depression. It also messes with hormones in the body. One hormone in particular is ghrelin, the hormone that controls hunger. As a result, people with low melatonin levels tend to struggle with obesity.
Can You Turn Off the Blue Light?
With evidence to suggest that blue light causes a slew of health problems, you might be wondering if it’s possible to power down the blue light in your life. Unfortunately, the short answer is no. Because sunlight emits the greatest source of this light, you’re unlikely to avoid it altogether. But you can take steps to cut down on your exposure.
If you work with or on computers all day, adopt the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to look at a non-electronic object at least 20 feet away. This gives your eyes a chance to rest, and it’ll break the constant flow of blue light into your retinas. For children, limit their exposure to things like tablets and TV, and encourage more tangible creative play instead.
Smartphones are another chief concern because of how close people hold them to their faces. And if you’re someone who uses your phone to relax at night, consider a new habit, like reading using a physical book.
Other Safety Tips
Unless you move to the woods and detach from the world (and never go outside), it’s not possible to eliminate all sources of blue light from your life. It is possible, however, to adopt smart strategies for reducing exposure. Here’s how:
- Place your computer screen 20 to 26 inches away from your face, at slightly below eye level. Distance matters when it comes to blue light exposure.
- Invest in a glare filter for your computer screen or other digital devices. Removing glare reduces strain on the eyes and removes some blue light in the process.
- Download computer programs that remove blue light from your computer screen. Programs like f.lux also allow you to set timers during the day so that once the evening rolls around, your electronics will dim the blue light for you.
Limiting the amount of time that you spend on the computer can help too. Taking frequent breaks reduces your exposure to blue light and gives your eyes a rest. Think of your eye as a muscle. When you flex that muscle, it gets tired. Like any other muscle in your body, you have to rest it from time to time.