There is no escape from blue light. It really is everywhere, most notably, it is part of the spectrum that makes white light that our sun emits. In that sense, blue light has its benefits. It is indeed part of the stuff that makes most plant life possible. But then, there is the dark side of blue light. It is the overuse of it, especially after darkness sets in.
Computers screens, smartphones, TVs, games, LED lighting – basically our modern life – bombard us with an excess of this particular wavelength light. What does blue light do to your eyes?
In this post, we will go through the current research and see also how we can protect ourselves. Some people turn to blue light screen protectors, others prefer to invest in blue light blocking eyewear. What exactly are the benefits of blue light glasses and do we really need them? Let’s explore.
What Is Blue Light?
Blue light is part of the visible spectrum that makes white light. It is composed of the colors of the rainbow, from red, through orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, to violet. This “visible light spectrum comprises electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths ranging from 380 nanometers (nm) on the blue end of the spectrum to about 700 nm on the red end.” (Source)
Because blue light has shorter wavelengths, it also has higher energy than other colors.
Some research shows a link between eye damage and short-wave blue light with wavelengths between 415 and 455 nanometers. Most of the light from the LEDs used in smartphones, TVs, and tablets has wavelengths between 400 and 490 nanometers.WebMD
Fluorescent and LED light bulbs also give off blue light. And while the emitted blue light would be of less concern during the day, it can be very disruptive at night.
Before the invention of electricity, humans were exposed mainly to natural light from the sun. As soon as the sunset, people tended to go to bed, or, at most, enjoy some evening hours with candlelight or an oil lamp, none of which would cause any harm to the eyesight (unless of course, someone would insist on reading for hours with such poor lighting).
Since we invented light bulbs and then screens, we are exposed to artificial light for hours on end (for some it can extend as far as 16/18 hours per day). Getting dark outside means very little to our daily routines, we stay up no matter when the sun sets, and we are bathed in light from lamps, TVs, phones, and computer screens.
What Does Blue Light Do to Your Eyes?
I have to admit, especially this past year, I spend a lot of time on screens. on a typical day, I teach 4-5 hours on zoom, then I spend another few hours looking at submissions from students and preparing lessons for the next day. That means about 7-8 hours daily just on the computer.
I also research, write, and blog on my computer. When the day comes to a close, I like to relax with my family watching a movie or playing a Wii game. This adds another few hours to the screen exposure. You get the picture. And, I am sure, we are all in the same boat to a certain extend.
Can our eyes cope with this assault? Not entirely. During the day, our eyes are highly effective in blocking most of the harmful UV rays from reaching the sensitive retina at the back of the eyeball. In fact, less than 1% of UV radiation from the sun reaches the retina, even if we aren’t wearing UV-blocking shades.
Still, it is very important to wear sunglasses because even that 1% can cause serious damage to the eye, aside from leading to wrinkles around the eye area from all that squinting.
At night though, as this article points out, virtually all visible blue light passes through the cornea and lens and reaches the retina.
Several studies have shown that exposure to blue light can actually damage our retina, leading to changes that are similar to those in macular degeneration, which can lead to permanent vision loss.
In the visible spectrum, short-wave blue light with wavelength between 415 nm and 455 nm is closely related to eye light damage. This high energy blue light passes through the cornea and lens to the retina causing diseases such as dry eye, cataract, age-related macular degeneration, even stimulating the brain, inhibiting melatonin secretion, and enhancing adrenocortical hormone production, which will destroy the hormonal balance and directly affect sleep quality.Research Progress About The Effect And Prevention Of Blue Light On Eyes
Ophthalmologists remain divided on the questions regarding blue light. How much is too much? Can we avoid blue light emission?
Where doctors and scientists disagree most is whether it is helpful at all to wear eye protection or whether it’s more helpful to simply spend less time in front of screens and other blue-light-emitting appliances. But, we’ll get to this issue a little bit later.
Eye Strain and Computer Vision Syndrome
Something that has been observed by doctors and scientists is general eye strain due to prolonged exposure to blue light.
It manifests as blurred or double vision, sore or dry eyes, irritation, dizziness, and/or headaches. Before I started using protective glasses, I was definitely suffering from such symptoms of eye strain.
Moreover, I, like many others, would try to compensate for such blurred vision by leaning forward and closer to the screen. Result? More exposure and even more soreness in the neck and shoulder area.
Blue Light and Cancer
I was very much interested in exploring this particular question. Is there a link between blue light emission and cancer? Apparently, there is even though it might not be a direct one. The link is between sleep (or rather lack thereof) and some cancers.
Blue light exposure might raise your risk for certain cancers. One study found that people who work the night shift are at greater risk for breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers.WebMD
It is so because artificial light at night messes with our circadian rhythm – a biological clock that tells us when to sleep and when to be awake and active.
Exposure to blue light suppresses melatonin production, a hormone responsible for the proper functioning of our circadian clock. We start having sleepless nights and these sleep disturbances may contribute to the formation of disease, from obesity to diabetes, heart problems, and cancer.
Harvard researchers and their colleagues conducted an experiment comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light to exposure to green light of comparable brightness. The blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much (3 hours vs. 1.5 hours).Harvard Health Letter
These problems can occur not only from screens but also from exposure to “regular” electric light.
These findings indicate that room light exerts a profound suppressive effect on melatonin levels and shortens the body’s internal representation of night duration. Hence, chronically exposing oneself to electrical lighting in the late evening disrupts melatonin signaling and could therefore potentially impact sleep, thermoregulation, blood pressure, and glucose homeostasis.Exposure to Room Light before Bedtime Suppresses Melatonin Onset and Shortens Melatonin Duration in Humans
How To Protect Your Eyes From Blue Light?
The easiest way to avoid blue light exposure is to spend less time on our screens. Easy? I’d say, easier said than done. Just like it is impossible to put the toothpaste back in the tube, so it is not really feasible to give up on modern life.
True, we should be watchful of the time spend in front of the screens and/or under artificial light, and try to limit it as much as possible, without sacrificing our professional and social needs.
But we won’t be able to give up our computers and other electronic and electric appliances. If anything, we will probably be using more of them, as the recent year under lockdowns has shown.
During the pandemic, the amount of screen time for many people working and learning from home as well as binge-watching TV has sharply increased. New research finds that wearing blue-light glasses just before sleeping can lead to a better night’s sleep and contribute to a better day’s work to follow.Science Daily
I try to avoid watching TV and checking my phone or computer for at least one hour before bedtime. Part of my ritual since forever has been to read in bed, and for that, I make sure that my nightstand lamp has the old style, rather than LED, bulb.
True, they are less energy-efficient than the new LED bulbs, but they are also so much easier on my eyes. In our house, we use LED bulbs for general lighting needs and the old type bulbs for nighttime reading.
If pressed to use a computer or phone at night, I have them set to the Night Shift function from 8 PM on. This function changes the colors of the display to warmer tones, and so the eyes get exposed to less blue light.
The surest way to protect eyes from blue light is to get a pair of blue light glasses. The recent review of current research came to this conclusion.
We should minimize the use of electronic devices at night and avoid the effect of blue light on the secretion of melatonin at night, so as to ensure good sleep and eye closure time.In addition, when we use blue light rich product at night, the approved anti-blue light glasses or screen cover may be a good choice to avoid blue light-induced injury.Research progress about the effect and prevention of blue light on eyes
Another group of researchers did an interesting study of the blue-light blocking glasses effectiveness on “sleepiness” amongst digital device users. A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health showed that when a group of young boys wore orange glasses while looking at their phones for a few hours before bed, they felt “significantly more sleepy” than when they wore clear glasses.
Blue Light Blocking Eyeglasses
There are many glasses on the market that claim to offer protection from overexposure to blue light. Question is, do they really work? Do we need them?
As mentioned above, ophthalmologists are divided on this issue. Some even call the explosion of the blue light blocking glasses a market ploy to sell more useless appliances. On the other hand, there are also doctors who whole-heartedly promote the use of good quality blue light blockers.
With opinions divided like this, I go with my gut feeling and personal experience. Ever since I started using my blue light blocking glasses, I experience much fewer headaches, less eye soreness, and fewer sleep disturbances. They are obviously working for me, and so I will keep using them.
Benefits of blue light glasses
What exactly are the benefits of blue light reflective glasses? There are mainly three:
1. They protect from eye strain and computer vision syndrome
These glasses filter out blue light while letting other parts of the spectrum in, so we can spend more time looking at screens without straining our eyes.
2. They offer protection from retinal damage
Even though research on the potential damage to the retina by blue light is still limited, several works like this peer-reviewed 2018 study found that removing blue light during periods of prolonged light exposure can significantly reduce retinal damage.
3. They can help with sleep
Wearing blue light filtering glasses can improve both sleep quantity and quality. As I mentioned above, I use my blue light blocking glasses for reading at night and for occasional scrolling through digital devices. I have them on as I am writing this in fact.
Filtering or blocking the blue light is crucial when trying to avoid any disturbance to melatonin production. Getting the needed zzz’s is much easier with my blue light blockers.
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Spektrum Blue Light Blocking Glasses
I got my first pair of Spektrum glasses about a year ago, on a whim. I read about the risks from overexposure to blue light and I researched blue-light-blockers and thought, why not? I had trouble sleeping and was experiencing the symptoms of eye strain due to computer work.
Within days of wearing the glasses, my vision has improved and the headaches were gone. Sleep is still a struggle, but it might be related more to hormones and other issues at this point. I love my glasses so much, that this Christmas, my husband and my daughter received them as gifts from me, and both are loving them so far.
Spektrum makes three types of glasses.
Blue light reduction glasses
These glasses are not tinted or only slightly tinted. They look like any other glasses, and they provide anti-glare and blocking of the higher range of the blue light spectrum.
from: Spektrum glasses
Blue light blocking glasses
These are distinctly yellow-tinted glasses and they block most blue light. These look more like utility glasses and looking through them will make the world look a bit more yellow.
from: Spektrum glasses
Reading blue light filtering glasses
If you need reading glasses, these Spektrum glasses come in magnification levels from zero to +3.00. This is exactly what my husband needed. I got him a nice looking pair with the needed +1.00 magnification which is perfect for him to read off his computer screen and phone at close range.
Spektrum’s Prospek Arctic, the best blue light blocking glasses, are affordable, unassuming, and available in a wide range of reader powers. The lenses’ slight yellow tint filters blue light without entirely discoloring a digital screen, making them perfect for computer work.
Now, Spektrum glasses are not the cheapest blue light blocking glasses out there. But beware, blue light blockers are most like worth as much as they cost. If you spend little, you will probably get little real function. Personally, I prefer to spend a bit more and be sure that the product comes with certification and real light filtering capabilities.
I would suggest looking for blue light blocking eyewear in the range of anywhere between USD 30 and USD 60. Any cheaper will be, well, cheaply made. And anything pricier is probably overpriced and over-hyped.
To sum up, blue light from digital devices and electric lighting can be pretty damaging to our eyes and it can wreak havoc on our sleeping patterns. Having used blue light blocking glasses for a good year now I can testify that they do indeed help.
For someone like myself who uses a lot of devices for work and play, they can be a real lifesaver. Bye-bye dry eyes, headache, and sore neck. Hello, nerdy eyewear with benefits!