It’s no secret that digital technology has an ever growing dominance in our lives, not just at work, but in our personal lives too. We’re always checking emails, posting to social media, watching movies, or doing research and all the while, we’re increasing our blue light exposure. While not all bad, you can primarily blame digital blue light for your eye pain and recurring migraines. Blue light affects us more than we’d like to admit, or even realize.
We need to learn how to live healthily, as much as possible, with harmful blue light exposure.
What is Blue Light Exposure?
According to bluelightexposed.com, blue light, “is a color in the visible light spectrum that can be seen by the human eye”. It has a short wave length and produces a high amount of energy. Blue light exposure is actually very common in our world. It’s emitted by the sun, but it’s also emitted by our screened technology. TVs, fluorescent lights, cell phones, tablets, and computers all emit blue light.
But, natural and artificial blue light are dramatically different.
Natural Blue Light:
- Boosts Alertness
- Improves memory and brain function
- Improves mood
- Regulates your circadian rhythm (your body’s natural sleep cycle)
Artificial Blue Light:
- Lowers the body’s production of melatonin (your body’s natural sleep hormones)
- Increases risk of cancer
- Eyestrain, headaches, permanent eye damage
- Increased risk of depression
- Increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease
So, if artificial blue light has so many side effects, why is it so popular?
Blue light is used in technology because it boosts brightness and clarity. F0r example, LED lights are popular because they use less energy, but are just as detrimental to your health as regular blue light.
Several leading studies have show that continuous, long-time exposure has disastrous effects on your health.
Health Risks of Prolonged Exposure
While researchers aren’t sure why artificial blue light exposure is so harmful to your health, they know it negatively effects hormones in the body. Repetitive exposure does lower melatonin level in the body which affects the immune system and natural sleep cycles.
This is how it works:
The human body evolved to stay awake while there’s light and sleep when it’s dark. As stated above, natural light also produces blue light, so our body has evolved to suppress melatonin (which makes you sleepy) while we’re absorbing blue light (from the sun).
Following so far? There’s more!
So, since our technology also emits blue light, we’re further suppressing our body’s ability to produce melatonin whenever we use certain technology. So, what do you do when you finally get home from a long day? I’ll tell you what I normally do. I open up my laptop and watch a few episodes of my favorite show, while simultaneously scrolling my phone. And then I go to bed… or at least try to.
Let’s take my day from the top, shall we?
I work in a business office with fluorescent lighting and I’m on my work laptop for the entirety of my 8 hr workday. Then I go home and watch about 1 hr of TV and check my phone. I spend about 9 hrs per day exposed to blue light at least! And I’ve noticed the effects it’s had on my body too. My eyesight has gotten dramatically worse, my eyes start hurting about mid day, and I always feel run down on my way out of the office. If I go right from watching TV or a movie to bed, it takes me much longer to fall asleep and my eyes have become more sensitive to natural light.
Basically, the more blue light you’re exposed to, the higher risk you have of experiencing the before mentioned health risks.
There are a few reasons why blue light exposure causes eyestrain:
- Because of its shorter wavelengths, blue light tends to “flicker” more, which creates glare that can be harmful to the eye.
- Blue light penetrates the macular pigment in the eye which degrades the retina, affecting eyesight and increasing the risk of cataracts, glaucoma, and other retinal diseases.
- The distance from the screen to the eye can cause fatigue and strain. Your mom was right when she told you not to sit so close to the TV!
Digital eyestrain impacts about 70% of adults who use digital technology daily. According to bluelightexposed.com, “Symptoms of digital eyestrain, or computer vision syndrome, include blurry vision, difficulty focusing, dry and irritated eyes, headaches, neck and back pain. Digital eyestrain has overtaken carpal-tunnel syndrome as the number one computer-related complaint.”
Everyone, at every age, is affected by blue light on some level. And unchecked, blue light can have negative, long term consequences.
Because our world is becoming increasingly more digitalized, blue light exposure is lasting longer and effecting a wider range of individuals. We’re constantly relying and interacting with digital technology for a variety of reasons on a daily basis, whether it’s using our smartphones as an alarm clock, reading the news on our tablets, or kids playing video games to fill the time.
- Research suggests that 60% of people spend more than 6 hours per day using a digital screen
- 43% of adults have a job that requires prolonged use of a computer
- In 2017, 75% of adults reported regularly using a smartphone
- According to a Kaiser family Foundation study, children and teens (ages 8-18) spend more than 7 hours a day using digital screens
These stats are pretty eye-opening (no pun intended), but it’s not all doom and gloom! There are ways you can mitigate the consequences of blue light exposure.
What To Do
We know the problems, but how do we solve them? Digital technology is a reality of our 21st century world and I would argue we’ve mostly the better for it. It’s not going away and in fact, it’s dominance in our lives will only grow. But, it’s harmful to our bodies plain and simple, so how do we overcome this strange predicament?
There are some practical and just common sense ways to lessen the negative effects of blue light on your eyes.
1. Special Glasses
There are glasses available (for indoors and outdoors) that have special lenses specifically crafted to reduce eyestrain and block harmful blue light. Those lenses can be fitted into mostly any frames. If you have glasses already, it won’t be much of a hard switch for you!
2. The 20-20-20 Rule
You need to take regular breaks from starting at a digital screen. Studies have shown that after two continuous hours of using a digital screen, eyestrain begins. The 20-20-20 rule is for every 20 minutes you spend using a digital screen, take a 20 second break, and look at something 20 ft. away. This exercise helps to relax the eyes and keeps fresh by minimizing continuous, direct blue light exposure. If you can, train your eyes to go in and out of focus when you’re looking at something far away. This helps to strengthen your eyes and works to improve eyesight.
3. Technology Use
Don’t sit too close to your screen, and instead increase the font size. If you’re using your phone at night, some smartphones have a new feature that it supposed to be easier to see and less harmful to the eyes in the dark.
Digital technology emits a harmful blue light that can cause long-term health consequences. But, digital technology is a part of most everyone’s daily life, so there needs to be a balance drawn. Knowing the effects of blue light and how to reduce them is essential in our digital technologically driven society.