In an era where looking at laptops, smartphones and tablets multiple hours a day is just a part of life- taking steps to understand the impact on our eyes and having a strategy to mitigate the effects is paramount.
There are several little-known side effects of the digital era. Many of the pesky symptoms that a lot of us experience daily, such as headaches can be traced back to our relationship with screens.
While necessary to modern life, long-term exposure to screens can lead to digital eye strain, suppressed immune function and even interrupted sleep.
The culprit that is responsible for the detrimental effects of screen time is the blue light that is emitted from these devices. Here we explore the nuances of blue light, it’s impact on health and most importantly – what to do about it!
Blue Light, Explained
There are different colors of light. Typically, we observe them together, and they appear to be almost a white or yellow color.
Different colors of light actually have different biological effects in the body. For the most part, in the correct ratios and exposure times, these effects are beneficial to our physiology.
For example, blue light when received by the sun in conjunction with all the other colors, helps us to stay awake during the day, boosts mood and provides us with ample energy. Blue light in some situations is even antimicrobial and it can help to increase circulation.
However, when blue light is emitted by screens, which we sit in close proximity too, it alters the physiology of our eyes in an unfavourable way(s).
Blue light in high concentrations increases free radical production and ramps up oxidative stress.
When it comes to our eyes, which are the first point of contact with light from screens, we are unfortunately not equipped to block or filter blue light. Blue light is then able to reach the cornea, the lens and the retina, causing damage to these structures within the eye.
Short-Term Side Effects of Blue Light Exposure
Tired eyes, fatigue, headaches, tight shoulders, jaw pain, eye irritation, dry eyes, light sensitivity and trouble focusing (physically and mentally) are all symptoms of digital eye strain, the most common manifestation of blue light exposure.
Beyond the discomfort of digital eye strain, there is good evidence that those who experience it have a diminished capacity to learn and retain information and it has been shown to decrease work efficiency and productivity.
Digital eyestrain and its plethora of symptoms occurs when exposed to blue light via screens over the short term. Perhaps an area of larger focus are the long-term effects of being in close proximity to blue light day in and out
Long-Term Impacts of Blue Light
There are a few long-term concerns with chronic eye exposure to blue light.
The eye is largely made out of lipids (fat), which are highly susceptible to free radicals and oxidative stress. As free radicals and oxidative stress build up in the eye with blue light exposure, we start to see cell death in structures of the eye such as the cornea and retina which essentially ages the eye
- Due to the short-wave length, blue light primarily contacts the front of the retina, which can cause near sightedness over time
Overtime, the center of the retina can also become damaged and this is a risk factor for macular degeneration
- Exposure to blue light first thing in the morning and at night disrupts the sleep/wake cycle. IT does this by interfering with melatonin production- a molecule needed to induce sleep and protect tissues of the body. When sleep is impacted in the long-term, concerns with immune function begin to arise as sleep is the period of time where the immune system is built and strengthened.
What’s The Solution?
Blue light exposure is not avoidable, but that doesn’t mean we need to let it impact us negatively. Here are our top three ways to reduce the side effects of blue light and continue to live in good health!
- Follow the natural rhythm of nature. After sundown, our brains are programmed to notice an absence of blue light which signals a cascade of events that trigger deep, restful sleep. Don’t use screens after sundown and opt for candle/fire light instead of LED bulbs- as the former doesn’t contain blue light
- Invest in a pair of blue light blockers when using staring at screens for a long time. These do what the eyes cant- they reflect blue light, reducing exposure which means less free radical damage and eye fatigue. Win-win!
- Incorporate antioxidants into your diet. Carotenoids, such as the ones found in carrots and salmon protect the eye from free radicals, along with other antioxidants found in whole foods diets such as vitamin C and E!
Our favorite carotenoid, astaxanthin, has been studied for its use in protecting the eyes from blue light. Clinical studies from Japan show that it can reduce symptoms of digital eye strain by absorbing the blue light and helping to relax the muscles of the eye needed for focus. It has also been shown to reduce damage from the free radicals that are generated upon exposure to blue light.
You can shop our tried, tested and true Canadian Astaxanthin here!
If you want to learn more about eye health – you can read our Nutrition Blueprint for Eye Health blog, the principles apply to mitigating the effects of blue light as well! Access it here.
Author: Lisa Kowalyk, CNP, B.Kin