First there was single screening, then double screening, and now triple screening is becoming the norm.
Back in the old days, a family would gather in front of the TV to be entertained. A single screen was all there was. Now it’s common for people to use two or three screens at the same time, such as watching TV while simultaneously texting friends, posting to Facebook, doing online shopping, playing a game, or any of the other delights that are now possible because of easily available WiFi and affordable laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
And that’s just in leisure time. During work hours, it’s much the same, with multi-screen computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones in daily use by a wide range of professions.
Screens are firmly established as part of our way of life. We have satnavs in our cars, electronic billboards in our streets, e-readers instead of books, LCD watches, clocks, calculators, and many more types of devices being invented every year. We’re screen-addicted. Screens are cool. They help us stay connected.
But scientists have now discovered that some types of screens have health effects that many people are not aware of. To be precise, it’s not the screens themselves but the way that some are lit and how this affects melatonin receptors in our bodies.
It used to be thought that eyes were just for seeing. It’s now known that there are cells in the retina of the eye that contain a photopigment called melanopsin. These cells are in blind people as well as sighted, and they send signals to an area of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus that causes the pineal gland to secrete melatonin to make us feel sleepy when it’s dark.
Melanopsin cells are particularly sensitive to the blue spectrum of light, and this is where the problem starts because that’s exactly the type of light emitted by most screens. An article titled Blue light has a dark side by Harvard researchers explains how brightly lit screens and the strong blue component of LED lighting in our homes and workplaces affect our melatonin levels and can cause sleep disorders. Melatonin is also needed because it regulates reproductive hormones in the body and has anti-inflammatory properties that can suppress cancer cell growth.
If you are one of the billions of people who use screens every day and have difficulty falling asleep at night or find yourself staying up much later than you plan to, this is essential information for you to know. The problem is compounded if you also work night shifts, regularly experience jetlag, or are simply getting older (less melatonin is produced as we age).
Artificial blue light exposure from prolonged use of screens can also cause Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), which includes dry eye, eye strain, blurred vision, headaches, age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. According to The Vision Council, an estimated 70% of Americans have experienced some form of CVS. Other studies have revealed connections between blue light exposure and diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer, and depression.
How to reduce the amount of blue light you are exposed to
Experts recommend turning off all screens 2-3 hours before sleep. Yeah, right. How many people will be willing to change their lifestyle to do that? But now some other solutions are emerging that can help.
LED lights – If you use white LEDs in your home, switch to the type that are coated to produce a warmer light with less blue.
If you read before sleep, use an e-ink e-reader – If you like to read before sleep, use low-level lighting in your room and an e-ink e-reader such as the Kindle Paperwhite, Kindle Voyage, Nook GlowLight, or the Kobo Glo, all of which are front-lit rather than back-lit and do not produce blue light. With the WiFi turned off (to eliminate WiFi exposure), they are a much better option than even printed books because you don’t need a bright lamp to read one.
Dim your screens to match the time of day – At the very least, install f.lux on all your devices. It’s free, and it’s available for many types of devices. You tell the program where you live and what type of lighting you have in your home, and it will then dim and brighten your screens according to the time of day.
Wear blue light blocking glasses, especially when using screens at night – Most opticians now offer glasses with blue-light anti-reflective coatings, with or without prescription lenses. Even more effective are blue-light-blocking glasses with amber lenses. Better still, use anti-blue light screen filters made by Fiara that are available for iPhones, iPads, laptops, Macbooks, desktop monitors and even TV screens. They are easy to install and block out the majority of harmful blue light.
Practice 20-20-20 – Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet (about 6 metres) away.
Breathe – Many people hold their breath or breathe shallowly when using screens. Avoid screen apnea. Remember to breathe.
Blink – Staring too long at a screen gives you dry eye and eye strain. Develop the habit of consciously blinking from time to time.
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Copyright © Karen Kingston, 2016