From working at home and relaxing at night to virtual learning and even socializing, one of the various outcomes of this global pandemic is an increase in how much time we spend in front of screens. (Zoom happy hour, anyone?) We are constantly consumed with smartphones, tablets, laptops, and televisions. Forbes reported that adults can spend as much as 12 hours a day in front of screens. The CDC said children ages eight to 10 average six hours of screen time a day. Children ages 11 to 14 average about nine hours.
Most people don’t have much time during the day where they aren’t in front of a screen. With this much exposure to screens, negative effects can begin to form. According to The Vision Council, 200 million Americans report symptoms of digital eye strain. Symptoms of eye strain include dry eyes and headaches or blurred vision after looking at a screen for more than two hours.
Another possible contributor to this discomfort is blue light emissions from our screens. The latest fashion/wellness trend is blue light blocking glasses that aim to get you through your screen-filled day without all the discomfort. While these glasses are cute and trendy, are they actually worth the hype?
Blue light is visible light with a short wavelength that is packed with energy and high frequency. It is emitted everywhere, from the sun to our digital screens. This kind of light is helpful in daylight hours because it boosts our attention and mood. But as screens become more of a constant in our lives, our exposure to blue light could become harmful.
Exposure to blue light outside of daylight hours can throw off the body’s internal clock and impact our sleep, leading to an expansive list of other issues. Harvard researchers conducted an experiment that discovered how blue light impacts our melatonin production more than other colored wavelengths. They also note how not getting enough sleep is linked to an increased risk of depression, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems.
Also according to Harvard Health, researchers at the University of Toronto created an experiment comparing melatonin levels with a group exposed to bright indoor light while wearing blue light blocking goggles and another exposed to dim lighting without the goggles. The levels of the hormone were about the same, which strengthens the hypothesis that blue light suppresses melatonin. Blue light blocking mechanisms may be a temporary solution to the negative effects of blue light. These goggles have hit the mainstream and now blue light blocking glasses that can be found in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and cost.
Blue light blocking glasses have specially crafted lenses to block or filter out the blue light emitted from screens. The lens can have a slightly yellow or amber tint that filters light to appear warmer and softer on the eyes. Advertising for the glasses claims to protect your eyes by reducing potential damage to your retinas from prolonged exposure as well as eliminate eye strain, dryness, and irritation.
Many reviews from people who have purchased blue light glasses are positive that they have made a difference. They say since trying the glasses they have experienced less eye strain and headaches. Some commented that they felt less exhausted by their prolonged screen exposure and could spend more time working productively.
Greg Rogers, Senior Optician at Eyeworks in Decatur, Georgia, sees the benefit of blue light glasses. He recommends them, or a blue light blocking screen attachment, to any of his clients who spend more than six hours a day in front of a screen. With the majority of American adults and children already surpassing that six hours of screentime a day mark, we might want to look at these glasses more seriously.
Despite an overwhelming amount of positive reviews, there is not enough evidence or research to conclude how well these glasses really work. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) says we don’t need blue light glasses and that the problem isn’t even necessarily blue light itself. They claim the root of our discomfort and problems is the overuse of our digital devices and how we use them. Again, we spend a lot of time with screens. Our workdays are filled with virtual meetings and emails. Our downtime is spent watching our favorite show or helping our children with their virtual learning platforms. Our socialization time has resorted to video calls and reaching out over social media. We are constantly consuming screens.
Ophthalmologist Rishi Singh in Cleveland, Ohio agrees with the AAO that blue light is not the cause of these symptoms. He explained that when we are looking at screens, we don’t blink very often which causes our cornea to become dry and irritated. He also said focusing on close-up objects makes our eyes contract, and for a prolonged period of time can lead to feelings of strain. Even while some people do find less irritation and strain from wearing blue light glasses, they will not prevent the possibility of symptoms or disease.
However, blue light glasses can be beneficial for our sleep patterns. Blue light holds back the body’s production of sleep-inducing melatonin. A 2017 study by the University of Houston reported that participants who wore blue light glasses in the evening showed a significant increase in melatonin levels over those who did not wear blue light glasses. The glasses allowed these participants to remain productive at night and still get a healthy amount of sleep. In today’s times, productivity and rest is everything.
There are other ways to eliminate your discomfort from screens, which the AAO and other ophthalmologists recommend. Practice the 20-20-20 rule, where every 20 minutes that you’re in front of a screen you look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This exercise relaxes the eyes.
If your eyes are prone to drying up, use eye drops to keep them lubricated throughout the day. Sit an arm’s length or 25 inches away from your screen to help reduce eye strain. Use the night mode feature on your digital devices that alter the display to the warmer end of the spectrum and reduces your exposure to blue light. And, simply turn the screens off. Decrease your screentime especially in the evening and an hour before you sleep.
But sometimes it isn’t that easy to just turn the screen off. With our daily lives becoming more and more virtual, doing what we can to protect our bodies and to remain comfortable while productive is important. There is no harm in trying blue light glasses for yourself. A regular combination of these practices and blue light glasses is the best way to go to eliminate these symptoms.
If you’re spending over six hours in front of a screen, you’ll also be wearing these glasses for over six hours. Comfort is paramount. The wrong size glasses could make your eye strain symptoms even worse. For example, if your glasses are too small for your head, they can add pressure against your skull and create an intense headache.
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Blue light glasses can be very fashionable and trendy. They can perfect a classic chic look for all those Zoom meetings. Blue light glasses do not have to be very expensive to be useful. They can become your new go-to accessory and you can build a collection for every outfit or occasion.
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You get what you pay for. If you plan on wearing blue light glasses for multiple hours a day, they might be worth an investment. Cheaper blue light glasses have had reviews of breaking easily, so durability becomes a key factor for an everyday user.
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