Health effects of blue light from screens

Screens. There’s no avoiding them. They are an integral part of modern life. But the blue light they emit means they pose some health risks unless they are used wisely.

Children with screens

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 Wi-Fi 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, ereaders instead of books, and many more types of devices being invented every year. We’re screen-addicted. Screens are cool. They help us stay connected, we are told.

But scientists have discovered that some types of screens have health effects many people are not aware of. To be precise, it’s not the screens themselves but the way some are lit and how this affects melatonin receptors in our bodies.

Health effects
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

Turn off all screens at least two hours before sleep. Yeah, right. How many people are willing to change their lifestyle to do that? But now some other solutions have emerged that can help.

Stop using LED lights before sleep
LED light emit very high levels of blue light (even the ones that are coated to produce a warmer-looking light). Switch to using blue-light blocking lights in the hours before sleep. – Save 10% using this link

If you read before sleep, use an e-ink reader
If you like to read before sleep, use low-level lighting in your room and an e-ink 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 W-iFi turned off (to eliminate Wi-Fi exposure), they are a much better option than printed books because you don’t need a bright light 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. It doesn’t solve the blue light problem, but it helps a bit.

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. They are probably better than nothing, but much more effective are anti-blue light glasses made by companies such as BlockBlueLight in the UK – Save 10% using this link

Use screen filters
The best screen filters I have found are made by Fiara and 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.

Many people hold their breath or breathe shallowly when using screens. Avoid screen apnea. Keep your spine straight and remember to breathe.

Staring too long at a screen gives you dry eye and eye strain. Develop the habit of consciously blinking from time to time.

Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd 2016, updated 2024

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About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui, and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must-read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fifth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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One Response to Health effects of blue light from screens

  1. I had insomnia since i’m a child, i bought blue light blocking glasses and no more headache. I work in office and i use computer everyday. Now i really feel better.

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