When it comes to technology, it is easy to summarize everything that modern computers and cell phones have done for us. The convenience of communication allows us to see and hear from those closest to us with just the push of a button. Business can be conducted globally in the palm of our hands, and we can find out the answer to any question with a few keystrokes or a few taps on a screen.
But not everything that technology brings us is beneficial. Several studies have revealed the dark side of too much screen time, and our overall health could be deteriorating as a result. These symptoms arise from too much time absorbing blue light.
1. What Is Blue Light?
Blue light is described as the color in the visible light spectrum that can be seen by the human eye. Blue light has a typically short wavelength, which means it can produce higher amounts of energy. The wavelengths collide with air molecules that cause the blue light to scatter.
Blue light is everywhere, but years ago, the only source of blue light was available from the sun. It now comes from a variety of sources with digital screens. Blue light can be found transmitting from television sets, smartphones, computers, tablets, gaming systems, LED lighting, and other electronic devices.
Because blue light wavelengths are so commonplace and can come from different sources, there is a difference between those that are emitted naturally and those that are from an artificial source.
It is this process that makes our eyes and mind process a blue sky. Blue light has also been proven to boost alertness, elevate moods and mental health, heighten reaction time and increase an overall sense of well being, among others.
Not only are there several sources for artificial blue lights. It has also become a constant in peoples’ lives. So much of our work and our social life is centered on the computer and in the palm of our hands, and the trend is increasing.
More than 60 percent of Americans state that they spend more than six hours a day in front of a digital device. According to Forbes, some people have even reported an average of 12 hours per day in front of TVs and computers.
Because it was one of the shortest and highest energies in all of the light wavelengths, blue light tends to flicker easier and more prolonged. The flickering light can cast a glare that reduces visual contrast and affect the clarity and sharpness of what is in front of you.
Too much time in front of a screen can lead to eye strain, mental fatigue, and headaches in some individuals. Scientists say that our eyes cannot filter against this type of artificial light.
Scientists also stipulate that prolonged exposure to blue light from electronic devices, computers, and household fixtures can lead to some signs of accelerating aging. A study at Oregon State University found that blue wavelengths can also damage cells in the brains and the retinas.
Researchers observed fruit flies that were avoiding the LED blue light on purpose after a prolonged time. Since the prevalent use of LED lighting and devices means that the increased amount of light from the blue spectrum can be harmful in other ways as well.
Another study that was published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology in 2010 revealed that skin exposed to blue light had more pigment, redness, and swelling than the same person’s skin that had been exposed to other comparable UVA rays.
Science has found evidence that visible blue light can trigger some skin conditions, like melasma, where the skin is stimulated as a way to produce more pigment. Other studies have found that blue light can penetrate the skin.
This process generates reactive oxygen species, which can lead to DNA damage, cause inflammation, and break down healthy collagen and elastin. It may also result in hyperpigmentation. A study in the Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity also suggested that blue light exposure could stimulate the production of free radicals in the skin and accelerate the appearance of aging.
Light is an essential aspect of our lives, and while prolonged exposure is a matter of concern, it is not known how much is too much or whether the light illuminated from digital devices is as harmful as the same blue light emitted from the sun.
LED technologies are still relatively new, but the increase in use has led to a more sedentary lifestyle. Adults are to strive for at least 30 minutes to one hour of physical activity per day. If more hours are spent in front of a screen, then they are less likely to find the time to get the beneficial exercise that they need.
Blue light has been found to affect a person’s sleep and potentially cause chronic illness. Before artificial lighting was invented, the sun was the primary source of lighting, and people were spending their evenings in the dark.
Now that our nights and late morning can be illuminated, the body’s biological clock is out of whack. As a result, you may be suffering from sleep deprivation, which could lead to a host of other health problems. Studies have linked the use of blue light from screens to chronic sleep disorders, but other serious health problems could develop as a result of not getting enough shut-eye.
Scientists say that 90 percent of those who have insomnia also have another health condition. Sleep deprivation puts you at risk of developing heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes.
Some research has suggested that exposure to light at night can also be linked to some types of cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Exposure to blue light has been known to suppress the secretion of melatonin, which is the hormone that influences the circadian rhythm.
Lower melatonin levels have been found in some experimental studies to be associated with cancer. A study from Harvard also connected how the light could be related to diabetes and obesity. Gradually shifting the circadian rhythms in 10 people resulted in increased levels of blood sugar and leptin, the hormone that leaves people feeling full after a meal.
The process of falling asleep in front of blue light is increasing in popularity. According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 60 percent of Americans polled said they fall asleep with the television set.
Studies have shown that even a dim light can negatively impact the circadian rhythm and melatonin secretion. The light at night can be a contributing factor to why a good night’s sleep is hard to attain for so many people.
Melatonin helps control a person’s wake and sleep cycles. The pineal gland makes this hormone, and while the day proceeds, the production of melatonin is lowered. Once the sun sets, production rises again, and a person starts to feel tired.
Only in complete darkness can our body produce enough melatonin for us to function. Some scientists have found that blue light can suppress melatonin for about twice as long as the green light.
While lens can be useful in blocking UV rays from reaching the light-sensitive retina that is located in the back, it cannot prevent all harmful rays. There is less than one percent of the radiation that can reach the retina if someone is not wearing sunglasses.
Because blue light can penetrate all the way to the retina, there is a concern that too much exposure could cause damage to the cells in the retina that are sensitive to light. This can cause changes that resemble those that suffer from macular degeneration.
Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss, and it affects more than 10 million Americans. This is more than both cataracts and glaucoma combined. It can also lead to permanent vision loss. More research is needed to determine how much blue light is too light, but eye care providers have expressed concern that the presence of screen may increase the risk of macular degeneration later in life.
Computer vision syndrome is also known as digital eye strain, which describes a group of problems that affect vision as a result of prolonged computer, tablet, and other screen use. Many people who report experiencing eye discomfort and other vision problems say they often feel these symptoms after using digital screens for extended periods.
Symptoms include sore, tired, burning or itching eyes; watery or dry eyes; headache; sore neck, shoulders or back; increased sensitivity to light; and difficulty concentrating.
As we age, the eye’s natural lens continues to block most of the blue light, but those who have cataracts and are scheduled to have surgery may want to ensure that they have extra protection while their eyes heal.
Doctors may issue eyeglasses with lenses that have a special blue light filter. This could be very important to have, especially if you spend long hours in front of a computer screen or using other types of digital devices.
Science has found a strong correlation between light and mood. This is due likely to one of three types of photoreceptors called ipRGCs, which directly responds to light. These projections reach certain brain regions that affect how we process emotions, like how a sunny day can make us feel happy.
The indirect connection is believed to lead to mood disorders. Systems that directly connect to light can lead to disruption of sleep, brain plasticity, neurotransmission, hormone secretion, and gene expression.
Experts are not saying that all blue light should be blocked. It would be impossible to stay entirely away since LED lighting and digital technology are all around us.
Because blue light can be beneficial in boosting alertness and elevating mood, blue light has been used to treat the seasonal affective disorder, which is a type of depression that is related to the change in seasons. People with SAD typically see symptoms begin in the fall and continue through the winter.
Try and make a habit of avoiding looking at bright screens beginning two to three hours before going to bed. If you work a night shift or tend to use electronic devices at the end of the day, consider using blue-blocking glasses or installing an app that filters the wavelength during night hours.
20. Other Ways To Combat Too Much Blue Light Exposure
There are several other ways that you can protect your eyes to keep from too much exposure to blue light. One way is to invest in special blue light filter glasses that can be available in different options. They protect your eyes and reduce the number of harmful rays that reach your retina.
Other tips include blinking more often as you are staring at a digital screen, taking frequent breaks, and changing background colors to warmer colors that reduce strain. You can also clean your screen as a smudge, and a dust-free screen helps reduce glare.
There will likely be more studies in the future that will address our increased dependency on digital screens and the possible health effects that may cause. It may be a while before we can know for sure what the long-term implications could be. It is essential to keep several things in mind when you are using tablets, computers, smartphones, and other devices. Safe, practical tips can help you from possibly developing other health problems down the road.