You’ve probably heard about the dangers of blue light lately, and recent studies have shown that the average American now spends a whopping 10 hours a day staring at a screen. Our laptops, phones, tablets and TVs are all sources of blue light, and recently there’s been a lot of talk about the impact devices have on just about everything – from our brains and learning patterns to rising obesity rates, and more recently damage to our skin. So what’s the deal? How exactly does blue light affect us and is our screen time speeding up the ageing process?
Blue light has a shorter wavelength than other types of light, which impacts the body in some significant ways.
While ultraviolet light damages cells’ DNA directly, blue light destroys collagen through oxidative stress. A chemical in skin called flavin absorbs blue light. The reaction that takes place during that absorption produces unstable oxygen molecules (free radicals) that damage the skin.
Artificial light, like blue light, affects sleep patterns because it tricks the brain into thinking it’s daytime. Our bodies have a circadian rhythm, a 24-hour internal clock that sends signals to our brain telling us when it’s time to fall asleep or wake up. And when this natural rhythm is disrupted by blue light, it makes us more alert and awake. It also supresses melatonin, a hormone that tells the body when to go to sleep. So you might have a harder time falling asleep and then a hard time falling into a deep sleep.
Ever stare at a screen for so long that your eyes started to feel itchy and red? Thanks in part to artificial light, headaches and blurred vision are common side effects of looking at a device for extended periods of time. More recently, the threat of long-term retina damage has become a concern of extensive blue light activity.
We don’t think twice about wearing sunglasses and avoid looking directly at the sun because we know exposure to ultraviolet rays is bad for us. However, after spending more than 10 hours a day looking at blue light, it’s possible that the effects will impact us later in life. For now, here are a few simple ways to protect yourself (your eyes will thank you!):
So…. what can we do to help?
Less screen time: One of the easiest ways to reduce the effects of blue light is by spending less time looking at a screen. While it might be difficult to do this if your job requires you to be on a computer, you can still be mindful of the devices you’re using outside work hours. Proximity is also a factor when thinking about the danger. You’ll get less blue light from your TV than from your computer because it’s farther away and more light from your phone than your computer because your phone is so close to your face. Try powering down at least 2–3 hours before bed for more quality sleep!
Filters for smartphones and tablets: Adjust the colors on your smartphone using one of the filters provided by iPhone, Android, and Galaxy. You can set the blue light filter to appear from sunset to sunrise or more specific hours.
Computer glasses: By filtering out blue light and eliminating glare, computer glasses are worth trying, especially if you work on a computer for several hours throughout the day.
The bottom line? While you might not feel the effects of blue light yet, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be mindful of its effects and try to evaluate how much time you spend in front of a screen each day, when you can cut back, and how to protect yourself from too much blue light.