Blue light, is technology damaging your eyes

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Blue light

Is technology damaging your eyes

Our bodies need a good quantity of light at the right intensity and at the right time of day to act as cues for our internal body clock.  Light in the morning helps us wake up and feel alert and energised, while dimmer light at night cues us to go to sleep and stay asleep.

The amount of light we need depends on the time of day and the activities we are trying to accomplish.  During the day, we need high levels of light to stay alert for school or work, while in the evening  we want to start feeling more relaxed and ready for bed.

To ensure your body is getting enough light during the day, it’s important to spend an hour or more outdoors.  Getting outside for a walk in your lunch hour, even in the winter sun, will be good for you. This is because surrounding light, which is outside light that envelops you, is always better than artificial light because it’s stronger and brighter.

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However, for sleeping, lights should start to be dimmed and TV’s switched off an hour before bed because our bodies are hardwired to wake up or stay awake when light is bright and to feel sleepy when it starts to get darker and darker.

The problem with using artificial lights at night time is they decrease levels of melatonin, a hormone which is produced by the pineal gland in the brain approximately between 9pm and 8am (depending on your regular sleep patterns).  This hormone is vital to our body’s health because it controls our ‘circadian rhythms’ also known as our daily body clock.

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Blue light

We all know how important it is to protect our eyes from the sun’s harmful UV rays; but what about the harmful effects of blue light rays?

How many hours do you spend in front of a digital screen?  Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours staring at a digital screen. Studies suggest that 60% of people spend more than 6 hours a day in front of a digital device.

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What is blue light?  Blue light is a colour in the “visible light

spectrum” that can be seen by the human eye.

Light is made up of electromagnetic particles that travel in waves.  These waves emit energy, and range in length and strength. The shorter the wavelength; the higher the energy. The length of the waves is measured in nanometers (nm), with 1 nanometer equaling 1 billionth of a meter.  Every wavelength is represented by a different colour, and is grouped into the following categories: gamma rays, x-rays, ultraviolet (UV) rays, visible light, infrared light, and radio waves.  Together these wavelengths make up the electromagnetic spectrum.

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However the human eye is sensitive to only one part of this spectrum: visible light. Visible light is that part of the electromagnetic spectrum that is seen as colours: violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red.  Blue light has a very short wavelength, and so produces a higher amount of energy. Studies suggest that, over time, exposure to the blue end of the light spectrum could cause serious long-term damage to your eyes.

Sources of blue light include the sun, digital screens (TV’s, computers, laptops, smart phones and tablets), electronic devices and flourescent and LED lighting.

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Natural blue light versus artificial blue light

Blue light is actually everywhere. When outside, light from the sun travels through the atmosphere. The shorter, high energy blue wavelengths collide with the air molecules causing blue light to scatter everywhere.  This is what makes the sky look blue. In its natural form, your body uses blue light from the sun to regulate your natural sleep and wake cycles.  This is known as your circadian rhythm.  Blue light also helps boost alertness, heighten reaction times, elevate moods, and increase the feeling of well being.

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Read more about the circadian rhythm here: Healthy sleep habits

Artificial sources of blue light include electronic devices such as cell phones and laptop computers, as well as energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs and LED lights.

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Why should we be concerned about blue light exposure?

Blue light waves are the among the shortest, highest energy wavelengths in the visible light spectrum.  Because they are shorter, these “Blue” or High Energy Visible (HEV) wavelengths flicker more easily than longer, weaker wavelengths. This kind of flickering creates a glare that can reduce visual contrast and affect sharpness and clarity.

This flickering and glaring may be one of the reasons for eyestrain, headaches, physical and mental fatigue caused by many hours sitting in front of a computer screen or other electronic device.

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Our eyes’ natural filters do not provide sufficient protection against  blue light rays from the sun, let alone the blue light emanating from these devices or from blue light emitted from fluorescent-light tubes. Prolonged exposure to blue light may cause retinal damage and contribute to age-related macular degeneration, which can lead to loss of vision.

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The evolution in digital screen technology has advanced dramatically over the years, and many of today’s electronic devices use LED back-light technology to help enhance screen brightness and clarity.  These LEDs emit very strong blue light waves.  Cell phones, computers, tablets and flat-screen televisions are just among a few of the devices that use this technology.  Because of their wide-spread use and increasing popularity, we are gradually being exposed to more and more sources of blue light and for longer periods of time.

What are the effects of blue light exposure on our health?

Blue light can help elevate your mood and boost awareness, but chronic exposure to blue light at night can lower the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep, and disrupt your circadian rhythm.

Harvard researchers have linked working the night shift and exposure to blue light at night to several types of cancer (breast, prostate) diabetes, heart disease, obesity and an increased risk for depression.

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Researchers aren’t exactly sure why exposure to blue light at night seems to have such detrimental effects on our health, but it is known that exposure to light suppresses the secretion of melatonin and lower melatonin levels might explain the association with these types of health problems.

Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours staring at digital screen, whether it’s the computer at work, our personal cell phone, playing a video game, or just relaxing and watching TV.  Digital eyestrain is a new term used to describe the conditions resulting from the use of today’s popular electronic gadgets.

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Digital eyestrain is a medical issue with serious symptoms that can affect learning and work productivity.  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.

Digital eyestrain does not just affect adults.  Children are also at risk for eyestrain due to their growing use of digital devices.  Children today have more digital tools at their disposal than ever before – tablets, smart phones, e-readers, videogames are just among a few.  According to a study by the Kaiser family Foundation, children and teenagers (ages 8-18) spend more than 7 hours a day consuming electronic media. Before age 10, children’s eyes are not fully developed.  The crystalline lens and cornea are still largely transparent and overexposed to light, so too much exposure to blue light is not a good thing.  Parents should supervise and limit the amount of screen time their children are permitted.

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There’s growing medical evidence that blue light exposure may cause permanent eye damage; contribute to the destruction of the cells in the center of the retina; and play a role in causing age-related macular degeneration, which can lead to vision loss.

Melanin is the substance in the skin, hair, and eyes that absorbs harmful UV and blue light rays. It’s the body’s natural sunscreen protection.  Higher amounts of melanin afford greater protection, but as we age we lose melanin, so that by age 65 half of the protection is gone making us more susceptible to eye disease such as macular degeneration.

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Solutions

Here are just a few lifestyle tweeks that may help avoid the detrimental effects of blue light.

 

f.lux

 f.lux is a computer program that adjusts a computer display’s color temperature according to its location and time of day, based on a user specified set of longitude and latitude geographical coordinates, a ZIP code, or a city name, as well as featuring manual user control.

f.lux proponents hypothesise that altering the color temperature of a display to reduce the prominence of blue light at night will improve the effectiveness of sleep. Reducing exposure to blue light at night time has been linked to increased melatonin secretion.

The program was designed to reduce eye strain during nighttime use and to prevent disruption of normal sleep patterns.

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Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away. I would advise not 20 seconds but rather a 20 minutes break.

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Consider limiting the amount of time spent on a digital device. Spending just two consecutive hours looking at a digital screen can cause eyestrain and fatigue. Parents should supervise and limit the amount of screen time their children are permitted, and reduce the amount of their own screen time around the children to set a good example.

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Don’t us LED lights in the home.

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Wisdom

“Every new medium has, within a short time of its introduction, been condemned as a threat to young people. Pulp novels would destroy their morals, TV would wreck their eyesight, video games would make them violent.” – Hanna Rosin
“If you had weak eyes, they needed exercise to get strong. Glasses were like crutches. They prevented people with feeble eyes from seeing the world on their own.” ― Jeannette Walls
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