Now more than ever we have created a habit of staring into screens almost every hour of the day- from waking up to switch the alarm off on our phones, working on our computers, and winding down in the evening by watching shows on TV. Our daily routine with digital devices constantly exposes us to blue light, a term that is now widespread in reference to colored light wavelengths that could be harmful for your eyes and sleep. This article will summarize the latest research from preeminent experts to understand better why blue light matters.
Effects of blue light exposure
In the last few years, we have read many claims on the negative effects of blue light exposure to our lives. Here are some of the common claims:
- Digital eye strain
- Dry eyes
- Retina damage
- Disrupted sleep cycles
One of the first few studies on blue light was the Chesapeake Bay Waterman study that concluded with data which appeared consistent with how blue light exposure to the eyes is potentially harmful. This study found cumulative exposure to blue light led to an increase of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in comparison to exposure to ultraviolet light. These findings resonated with findings of other researches, one of which is the Beaver Dam Eye Study on the effects of bright visible lights that led to a higher risk for AMD. As such, exposure to cumulative blue light was identified as a risk to eye health.
Latest updates on blue light research
Here are summaries of the most recent research that can help shed more light on the truth of the matter.
Harvard Health Publishing
Updated on July 7th 2020, the study states ‘until the advent of artificial lighting, the sun was the major source of lighting, and people spent their evenings in (relative) darkness. Now, in much of the world, evenings are illuminated, and we take our easy access to all those lumens pretty much for granted.’ This study highlighted how exposure to blue light, especially in the evenings, affects the natural circadian rhythms people have which leads to lack of sleep.1
Nature Partner Journal
Published in October 2019, this research evaluated how blue light might affect the ageing process and the team used flies as their test subjects. The team compared their data to other researches as well looking into the effects of blue light exposure to mice and skin cells. The report summarized that their data suggested blue light needs to be added to a range of environmental stressors that become increasingly harmful with repetitive exposure.2
University of Toledo
A 2018 study by University of Toledo suggested that blue light can speed blindness. Dr. Ajith Karunarathne, assistant professor in the UT Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry said “No activity is sparked with green, yellow or red light,” and “the retinal-generated toxicity by blue light is universal. It can kill any cell type.”3
Conclusion from recent research
Science-based research shows that blue light can be problematic but there are caveats. Sometimes it is needed for your health as it can help improve your mood and alertness, regulate your natural wake cycle for your circadian rhythm and for children, lack of exposure could lead to myopia. However, blue light can be disruptive to our health as it affects how our body’s understanding of day and night. Even though exposure to blue light may not be the sole contributing factor to a deterioration of eye health, it still plays a role. The duration of which our eyes are exposed to blue light may lead to a myriad of eye-related complications from something as commonplace as dry eyes to something as serious as potential blindness.
How do you protect yourself from overexposure of blue light?
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to learn and work on our screens even more than usual, increasing our exposure to blue light at a rate that we probably have never experienced before. In order to mitigate the potentially harmful effects, here are some steps that can be practiced:
- Minimize the amount of screen time and take frequent breaks for your eyes to focus on an object further away. You can also use apps to track your screen time and limit your exposure on your phone for increased productivity while reducing blue light exposure. To improve your sleep, avoid looking at bright screens at least 2 hours before bed and consider using a dim red light as a night light instead.
- Use screen filters for your devices as they help reduce the amount of blue light that is given off. Examples of these filters are: CareUEyes, IrisPro, SunsetScreen, Eyesafe (Health-E), iLLumiShield, RetinaShield (Tech Armor), Retina Armor (Tektide), Frabicon and Cyxus.
- Use a pair of computer-glasses that can block blue light with yellow-tinted lenses. These glasses are available without an eyeglass prescription, if necessary, for the purpose of helping block blue light if you have no need for vision correction or if you routinely wear contact lenses to correct your eyesight (prescription lenses w/blue light blocking is widely available as well). This is especially helpful for those with professions that require constant usage of digital devices with bright screens or work a night shift.