What’s the last thing you do before you go to bed? What about when you wake up? For most Americans, it’s checking their phone. You may be sending emails or doing work, or you’re mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. It’s become normal to check our phones every chance we get.
The digital age has brought us some awesome technological advancements (hello, drones and keyless car entry!), but they haven’t come without their downfalls.
Your smartphone is a powerfully entertaining device. As the title states, 46 percent of American’s don’t think they could live without theirs. We depend wholeheartedly on our phones for socialization and organization. It’s our lifeline to other humans, without having to physically see another human. However, one of the biggest problems with this nearly-universal habit is the effect it has on our eyes.
How Does Screen Time Affect Your Eyes?
When your eyes are focusing on anything up close, not just your smartphone, their muscles are contracting. In short periods, this contraction is normal and healthy for your eyes. It becomes a problem when you’re focusing for too long on objects up close, like your smartphone.
Consider doing a really low squat and holding it the same amount of time you spend on your phone each day. Your muscles will feel tired, cramped, and eventually give out. Eye muscles are similar in that they feel the tiredness and cramping from focusing up close for too long. Most people are on their phones for multiple hours in total each day. That’s an extensive amount of up-close focusing for your eyes. It can cause headaches, sore eyes, dry eyes, and trouble focusing on objects farther away.
Another issue with screen time is the blue light that emits from smartphones, LED lights, and laptops.
What Is Blue Light?
Blue light is one of the colors that human eyes can see on the visible light spectrum. The spectrum has a wide array of colors with different wavelengths. When the wavelength is shorter, like it is in blue light, it has a more intense energy. Wavelengths that are longer have less intense energy. Unfortunately, exposure to blue light can cause serious damage to your eyes over time.
It isn’t all bad, though.
Blue light is actually a natural necessity for our bodies to function properly. The sun emits blue light, which mixes with the air molecules to give the sky its color. Daily exposure to natural blue light, like this, is crucial to maintaining our body’s circadian rhythm. It allows us to naturally produce melatonin which signals our bodies to fall asleep. Exposure to a healthy dose of blue light can actually increase alertness and improve low moods.
Blue light can derive naturally from the sun, or synthetically from our smartphone screens, LED lights, laptops, and fluorescent light bulbs. Synthetic blue light can severely damage our eyes.
How Does Blue Light Affect the Eyes?
Since the wavelength in blue light is shorter, it tends to flicker more than longer, less intense wavelengths. This flickering can cause a glare in our vision that reduces clarity. Objects in the distance might blur together and it becomes harder to notice the contrast.
This glare can cause eyestrain and headaches. The longer you sit in front of your computer or scroll through your phone, the more likely your eyes are to become fatigued. Eventually, your vision will become impaired and require help to improve it. Some people assume they’re developing myopia because the glare has blurred objects in the distance; in reality, their eyes are combatting the consequences of too much blue light exposure. It can even lead to irreparable retinal damage and increase chances of developing age-related macular degeneration.
Blue Light and Macular Degeneration
Our eyes are naturally protected from UV and blue light by melanin. However, as we age we lose melanin and become more vulnerable to damage. By the age of 65, half of our melanin protection in the eyes are gone.
When high-intensity blue light penetrates through the retina and into the macula, it begins to kill off the irreplaceable macular pigment. Your eyes become vulnerable not only to degeneration but to glaucoma and cataracts as well. Blue light is extremely dangerous to the retina, which impacts our chances of developing macular degeneration. According to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, blue light speeds up existing macular degeneration more than any other light on the visible light spectrum.
While more studies on the correlation between blue light and age-related macular degeneration are needed, we know that it can damage the retina and cause other eye health issues.
Blue Light and Children
Your child’s eyes are still growing until about the age of 10. Until full development, their lenses can barely filter out UV rays, let alone blue light on the visible light spectrum. Too much exposure to blue light can cause a child to experience headaches, eye strain, and fatigue. It can also ruin their sleep schedule and cause sleep disorders.
Parents can protect their children’s eyes from blue light damage by limiting their screen time. Unfortunately, on average most kids spend seven hours in front of a screen each day. It may not be for seven hours straight, but most parents use tablets and phones to distract their kids and entertain them more than they should. Here are some other ways parents can limit their child’s blue light exposure:
- No screen time within two hours of bedtime
- Regular breaks from screen time to go outside and utilize their distance vision
- Regular check-ups with an eye doctor to monitor their eye health and vision
- Reduce the brightness of the screen to the lowest it can be while still being able to see the screen without squinting
Children’s eyes are more delicate and vulnerable to vision problems from blue light than adult eyes. It’s up to the parents to protect their vision and ensure their eyes are taken care of.