Screens have become crucial to our work lives and our social lives, too.
And more screen time means there’s been a significant increase in blue light exposure.
Blue Light Definition
What is blue light? “All the light we see is made up of different wavelengths of light,” says Vivienne Sinh Hau, MD, an ophthalmologist at Kaiser Permanente in Riverside, California. “Certain wavelengths show certain colors.”
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Other Types of Light on the UV Spectrum
- UV-A This light — sometimes called “black light” — has the longest wavelength and causes the least amount of harm to the eyes.
- UV-B This is the light that can commonly lead to sunburn.
- UV-C This is the most damaging type of light and is used as a disinfectant in food, air, and water.
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Blue Light Benefits
In most cases, you hear about blue light in a negative context. But blue light has some positive aspects, too. Just think about how opening the blinds in the morning and letting sunlight come in helps you feel energized and awake.
- Promote alertness
- Boost memory and cognitive function
- Elevate mood
- Regulate circadian rhythm to enhance healthy sleep (though only when exposure occurs during daytime hours and not too close to bedtime — more on that later)
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Potential Dangers of Blue Light
On the other hand, too much blue light exposure can lead to:
- Sleep Disruption Exposure to blue light can mess with your circadian rhythm, which can negatively affect sleep. According to a 2019 systematic review, taking in blue light for two hours at night suppresses production of melatonin, which is the hormone that makes you feel drowsy and helps you go to sleep.Blue light essentially tricks your body into thinking it’s daytime, which makes sleep harder to come by.
- Eye Strain You may experience digital eye strain from looking at screens for too long due to the fact that blue light scatters more easily than other lights, which can reduce contrast.It’s not only blue light that’s the issue. The way we use screens also contributes to eye strain. “When we’re on these devices, we become zombies,” says Tamiesha Frempong, MD, an ophthalmologist with Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “We don’t blink as much as we do in normal conversation, and so the eyes dry out.” Nearly 6 out of 10 American adults report experiencing digital eye strain symptoms, such as headaches and dry eyes.This discomfort is often temporary and usually subsides after you step away from the screen.
None of the experts we talked to are concerned about blue light. But they are concerned about screen time.
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Tips for Reducing Exposure to Blue Light
You can try setting your devices to night mode to try to keep the blue light from interfering with your sleep. Apple’s Night Shift setting automatically adjusts the screen display to a warmer temperature when the sun sets in your location. The warmer hues are meant to be less irritating on the eyes.
This setting is also available for Android devices, as well as many laptops.
You can also take steps to reduce eye strain if you must be on your electronic devices regularly. These steps can include:
- Abide by the 20-20-20 rule. After 20 minutes of screen time, look at something that’s about 20 feet away for 20 seconds. “Just basically look out a window,” Frempong says. “These breaks allow your eyes to go back to their resting position.”
- Sit an arm’s length (about 25 inches) away from the computer screen, and position the screen so you’re looking slightly downward.
- Adjust the contrast on your screen or the lighting in the room. More contrast will reduce eye strain.
- Treat dry eye symptoms with artificial tears. If you’re using drops more than four times a day, make sure you’re using the preservative-free kind, Frempong says. Preservatives in the drops can cause irritation.
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Summary of What to Know About Blue Light
Screen time is a concern for many right now. And while that comes with increased blue light exposure, you’ve been exposed to blue light all along.
“Blue light is everywhere — it’s not just from the computer screens,” Frempong says.
Blue light is often pitted as dangerous, but it’s not believed to cause any long-term issues. Digital eye strain is real, however. Taking frequent breaks, adjusting the contrast on your screens, keeping devices about 2 feet away from your eyes, and using artificial tears if dry eyes are bothering you can help provide relief.
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