Mental health & wellbeing

Why our increasing use of screens has sparked blue light concerns

Eve Ash /

Image supplied by Moshells

With so much of our waking lives spent viewing screens, is it any wonder people’s eyesight is suffering?  There used to be similar concerns over people reading books and newspapers. Two-thirds of Americans are now suffering from digital eye-strain, with 73% of adults younger than 30 impacted.

How do you feel when you wake up?

Many people at work are discussing how tired they are, how bad their sleep is and how much they use their devices – and most are aware these are problems.

A Moshells study surveying 2000 Americans discovered that they average 6.8 hours sleep per night and more than half experience trouble falling asleep. Only 36% say they get enough sleep with more than half feeling tired on waking.

Image supplied by Moshells

We need to switch off

Before electricity came along, humans slept for about 10 hours a night and were naturally awakened by the blue light just before the sun arose. With technology and especially computer screens and smartphones, using them before sleep says “WAKE UP!” to our eyes, just when natural doses of melatonin in our systems have built up nicely and predispose our bodies for sleep.  These devices emit an artificial blue wavelength that interferes with our circadian rhythms and also could harm the retina in our eyes from too much staring. For the sake of quality sleep, which is a necessity for our daily routines and physical and emotional health, we need to switch off — literally — at least an hour before going to bed.

Remaining switched on exposes us to blue light

The problem is that for many of us, our jobs now require long hours viewing screens.  And even when it doesn’t, a large majority of people are opting to stay “switched on” to news, gaming, entertainment and social media through the use of laptops, tablets, smartphones and so on.  Australians spend an average of 10 hours a day on their devices. In the US, where device penetration is at its highest, the Moshells study found that 76% of Americans kept their mobile devices close when sleeping.

Our eyes are doing it hard

It’s easy to underestimate those busy servants — our eyes — with squinting over websites, spreadsheets, mobile devices, even the small print on food and pharmaceutical products.  Eyes work hard and seldom complain. Sooner or later, though, they can become dry, gritty and sticky though constant screen use. Anand Keswani, founder of Optically warns that these seemingly mild symptoms, which also include a burning sensation, blurred or double vision, can severely impact people over a prolonged period of time. He says that “eye specialists are reporting that some patients in their mid-30s are developing cataracts with the same level of cloudiness normally seen in patients over the age of 70”.

There are ways to mitigate the risk of long-term effects

Most people are aware of the damaging effects of blue light but continue to over-use their devices. Here are some strategies to overcome the negative impact.

1. Consider blue light-blocking lenses on glasses

A study conducted at the University of Montreal found that after wearing lenses treated with a blue-light filter coating, participants felt their symptoms of eye strain were reduced and that their vision actually improved. Not everyone agrees that blue-tinted glasses make a difference, but there seems to be evidence that they’re best used at night, mainly for the reason cited above: so that your body can wind down, as Nature intended it. If it works on screen-addicted teenage boys, why not you? They’re increasingly available at optometrists, so discuss the pro’s and con’s when you next have your eyes tested. (Aim to get an eye check every two years.)

2. Get plenty of natural sunlight during the day

If lack of sunlight is poor for animal husbandry and egg production, why is being cooped up in an office all day necessarily great for humans?  Go outside a bit more. Go for walking meetings where possible — this way, you rest your eyes, get some exercise and sunlight and it invigorates you and your colleagues.

3. Eat plenty of leafy vegetables, nuts and fish

Eye health is also reliant on good nutrition so consider what you eat to help your eyes and seek quality advice.

4. Find some small ways to create big improvements

Small ways to improve viewing of screen content seems to be overlooked by many.

  • Reduce brightness where you can.
  • Consider using a larger font to save you squinting.
  • Every 20 minutes or so, look away from your screen/device for 20 seconds and focus on something much further away.
  • Try to ensure when you look at any screen that it’s at least 40 centimetres away and at eye-level (especially for all those ‘neck-heads’).
  • Ensure you have plenty of sleep, for the sake of your longevity and the health of your eyes.

Awareness is the starting point. Now walk away from your screen and think about what you can do to help your wellbeing and your eyes.

NOW READ: Staying mentally well as a solopreneur

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Eve Ash

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.

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