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Digital screen time and eye health: What you need to know

Right now, there’s a good chance you’re reading this blog from a device that emits blue light — and that you spend an average of 12 hours a day in front of a screen. In our work-from-home, tech-filled day and age, blue light is everywhere... but why is blue light put in such a bad... light? And can it affect your eyesight over time?

Read on to learn everything you need to know about screen time and eye health — and what you can do to keep scrolling on the tech you love, without the uncomfortable side effects.

What is blue light?

If you own an electronic device (like a smartphone, television, or computer), you’ve probably heard of blue light.

Blue light is a color in the visible light spectrum — and each color on the spectrum has different amounts of energy and wavelengths. Blue light has a higher concentration of energy and shorter wavelengths. While on the other end of the spectrum, red light is made up of less energy and longer wavelengths.

So how is blue light bad, you ask?

Blue light is a pretty energy-efficient and low-cost form of light, so manufacturers use it to keep costs low and manageable. We get blue light from LED and fluorescent lights, compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, and of course, screens. But that also means we are exposed to more blue light than ever before — and overexposure can lead to digital eye strain and disrupt natural sleeping patterns.

Why does blue light affect the eyes?

Because screens produce artificial sources of blue light, our eyes have not evolved to filter against it (unlike natural sources of light, like sunlight).

These factors raise concern that the blue light emitted from these screens can prematurely age the eyes and cause eye strain, fatigue, headaches, and sleeplessness, and also may lead to macular cellular damage. While that might sound scary, there’s no need to panic (or resolve to live a tech-free life) just yet.

Are there any benefits of blue light?

Blue light is necessary for good health — when it comes from natural sources. (Like from the sky and being outdoors!) It can boost alertness, help memory and cognitive function, and elevate moods. Ever wonder why an afternoon walk can suddenly turn your day around?

It can also regulate circadian rhythm, or your body’s natural wake and sleep cycle, which is crucial for overall health and wellness.

With that in mind, think about those nights you spend watching television or scrolling through social media (we’ve all been there) in a dark room — with your device light and bright. Though this might seem like an ideal wind-down activity, it could actually keep you awake for longer. How? Because as an artificial source of blue light, it can suppress the production of melatonin and stimulate the brain.

It’s not to say that a late-night movie marathon is harmful to your health — but it could cause blue light overload after a day (most likely) filled with screens, too. Here are a few statistics:

Plus, regular day and night use of blue light can lead to digital eye strain, or symptoms caused by the prolonged use of a computer screen or another digital device.

What are the symptoms of digital eye strain?

Digital eye strain can cause many different symptoms. If you’re someone that:

  • Spends more than six hours a day in front of a screen,
  • Sits too close to your digital screen,
  • Has eye problems (both major and minor) that are not corrected with glasses or contact lenses, or
  • Doesn’t take breaks while you’re working,

You might be at higher risk for developing symptoms of digital eye strain. Here’s what to look out for after spending a prolonged period of time in front of any type of screen:

  • Blurred vision
  • Double vision
  • Dry eye
  • Eye discomfort, fatigue, itching, or redness
  • Headaches
  • Neck and shoulder pain

If you’re feeling any of the above symptoms, you don’t need to call your eye doctor right away (unless you feel it’s an emergency). Just a few changes to your environment can lessen these symptoms — or even eliminate them.

  • Follow the “20-20-20" rule. For every 20 minutes spent looking at a screen, look at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
  • Enlarge the text on your computer screen or digital device.
  • Consider a screen glare filter.
  • Place your screen about arm’s length away from your eye.
  • Remember to blink often.
  • Posture is everything! Fix your chair height so your feet can rest comfortably on the floor.

What can you do to prevent digital eye strain?

In addition to your workspace, there are a few other ways you can prevent digital eye strain.

  • Many smartphones now have the ability to switch to a red (or warmer) light mode, which may help to lower cortisol and increase melatonin production. You can automatically set designated times when this feature turns on and off, or you can keep the red light mode on all the time.
  • Prioritizing your annual visit to the eye doctor (which can be as low as $10 with the help of a low-cost vision insurance plan). Your doctor will be able to examine your eye health up close and personal, so they can make sure there isn’t any damage to your retina caused by digital eye strain. Plus, you’ll be able get personalized recommendations on how to manage your digital use with your eye health in mind.
  • Limit screen time. This might be an obvious one, but decreasing the amount of time spent in front of screens (or taking advantage of your smartphone’s time limit features) could be a great way to manage any symptoms of digital eye strain.
  • Consider purchasing blue light-blocking glasses. Or ask your eyewear specialist about blue light-blocking filters for your prescription lenses.

Do blue light-blocking glasses really work?

If you’ve visited your eye doctor recently and got a new pair of glasses, you may have been asked if you’d like to purchase lenses that protect against blue light. Or if you’re one of the few that have 20/20 vision, you might have thought about investing in a pair of non-prescription, blue light-blocking glasses.

Since these products have only come on the market fairly recently, the jury’s still out on whether or not the lenses are effective — the American Academy of Opthamology says that many of the problems are mostly caused by overuse of digital devices, not actually the blue light itself. But if you ask your ophthalmologist, they might recommend some form of blue light reduction if you are in front of a screen for more than six hours a day.

Everyone can agree on this, though — blue light is everywhere, and methods like blue light-blocking glasses could be worth looking into. And for those that are already rocking a pair? If you feel that your blue light glasses help you get a better sleep at night or stop your headaches, keep doing you! (For what it’s worth, we bet you look super smart, too.)

Blue light shouldn’t be something to be afraid of. There are ways you can embrace the technology age, headache-free. From taking short screen breaks to prioritizing your annual visit to the eye doctor, it’s all about being mindful of your eye health — and knowing that it’s okay to have the occasional late-night Instagram scroll.

Maybe just make sure the warm light setting is on.

Tags: Health, Care, Vision

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