Every night most of us find ourselves huddled over computer, iPad or smartphone screens. But did you know that the blue light flickering from those digital devices could be damaging your eyesight? Current research indicates that prolonged exposure to blue light, used in electronics and efficient lighting, could increase your chances of developing vision problems. Here’s a primer to understand blue light and what you can do about it.

What is blue light?

Sunlight is made up of all the lights in the colors of the rainbow; they all combine to make the white light we see. Blue light has shorter wavelengths than colors on the red spectrum, but more energy. Sunlight is the biggest source of blue light, but other sources include: fluorescent light, CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs, LED light, flat screen LED televisions and computer monitors, smart phones, and tablet screens.

Positive effects of blue light

Not all blue light is bad. In fact, it has many positive effects, including making us more alert and increasing our reaction time and mood. All of this is great during daylight hours, but scientists are now starting to worry about prolonged exposure to blue light at night,  as it disrupts our biological clocks, keeping us alert when we should be powering down and going to sleep. How often have you found yourself past your bedtime, staring at a phone, computer or iPad? A lack of sleep could also lead to all kinds of health issues, ranging from depression to diabetes or heart disease.

Eye Strain and macular degeneration

But aside from robbing us of sleep, scientists are now worried about the effect on eyes. It’s commonly accepted that blue light causes eye strain, but a recent study from the University of Toledo pinpoints how blue light coming from electronic devices can potentially lead to macular degeneration, a major cause of vision loss in the U.S., according to PreventBlindness.org.

Tips for protecting your eyes from blue light damage:

– If you need a night light, choose a red light. Red light, of all the colored lights,  poses the least risk to alter the body’s biological clock and interrupt sleep cycles.

– Adjust your phone and computer screen settings: Try features like Apple’s Night Shift, which uses the clock and geolocation of your iOS device to determine when it’s sunset in your location. Then it automatically shifts the colors of your display to warmer colors. In the morning, it returns the display to its regular settings. Here are directions on how to activate it.

– About 2-3 hours before bed time, try to avoid looking at bright screens

– If that’s not an option–you work a night shift, have to be on a device for work, school,  gaming or whatever, consider installing an app that filters blue/green wavelength at night.

– Wear Protective Eyewear: They now have specially designed Gamer/Computer Eyewear Glasses, designed to protect your eyes. They’re available from $10 to $87 in retail outlets such as Amazon and Bloomingdales. They even come with reader or prescription lenses.

So next time you find yourself up late staring at a blue screen–stop and think about what you could do to protect your eyes. Your future self will thank you!


— Patty Yeager

Smart Lifebites