On Your Health

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Are Blue Light Glasses Worth a Try?

02 June 2021

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To answer this question, we must look back to studies from 1958 done by J. Woodland Hastings and Beatrice M. Sweeney, who tested different wavelengths of light, corresponding to different colors, to see if they’d cause a shift in the circadian rhythm in a species of algae, a dinoflagellate called Gonyaulax polyedra. They found that blue lights were most effective at this.

Hastings and Sweeney published their findings in a paper in the December 1958 issue of the Biological Bulletin, where it was almost immediately forgotten. At the time it seemed preposterous that such findings could hold any useful information for people – it was thought that the human circadian rhythm was impervious to changes in light.

Turns out, though, that our circadian rhythm is very sensitive to changes in light and health hazards occur when we mess with it, whether intentionally or not. And that same blue light that threw the algae’s rhythm out of whack is also a big problem for people.

Many of us are exposed to blue light for many of our waking hours. But does it damage our eyes, and should we wear blue light blocking glasses? Probably not. During the day, blue light is beneficial, boosting attention, reaction times and mood, according to an article published by Harvard Medical School. 

At night, however, blue light and other light can cause sleep disruption by suppressing the secretion of the sleep hormone melatonin. Sleep suffers, and possibly more. Research indicates that disrupting our circadian rhythm may contribute to cancer, obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Shortened sleep cycles are also linked to depression.

While all light can quash our melatonin production, blue light is especially efficient at it. Harvard researchers conducted a test comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light to 6.5 hours of exposure to green light of comparable brightness. Blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much.

Blue light at night is a known sleep disrupter. Here are some easy ways to protect yourself from night-time blue light.

  • Use dim red lights for night lights instead of blue. Red light doesn’t have the same capacity to shift circadian rhythm or suppress melatonin.
  • Don’t look at bright screens before bed. End your screen time 2-3 hours before you call it a night. Go bright during the day. Exposure to bright light during the day will boost your ability to sleep at night.
  • Daytime blue light exposure is not likely to thwart sleep. Eye issues are often attributed to daily blue light exposure, including dry eyes, eye strain, watery or irritated eyes. Blue light glasses have special lenses or coatings on their lenses to filter or block a portion of the blue light coming from digital screens, but it’s not actually the blue light that causes eye strain, or dry, irritated or watery eyes. 

Eye discomfort caused by digital screens has its own term: computer vision syndrome (CVS). CVS is an umbrella term for all the eye woes we just mentioned. Blue light glasses are not likely to ease them. To ease your CVS symptoms try the following.

  • Practice the 20-20-20 rule. Give your eyes regular rest breaks. Every 20 minutes look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. 
  • Limit screen time. This is especially important for children, who may not make the connection between extended viewing and eye strain but adults need to remember this, too. If you spend all day looking at a screen, don’t spend your home time looking at screens.
  • Use eye drops. Over-the-counter artificial tears can help thwart and ease dry eyes. Use them even when your eyes feel fine to keep them well-lubricated. 
  • Sit an arm’s length away from your screen. Most people sit too close to the computer and experience eye strain. 
  • Improve the air quality of your workspace. We don’t always associate air quality with eye comfort, but dry air can aggravate dry eyes. Some changes that may help prevent dry eyes include using a humidifier, adjusting the thermostat to reduce blowing air and avoiding smoke. Moving your chair to a different area may help reduce the amount of dry moving air on your eyes.
  • Check the lighting and dial down the glare. Bright lighting and glare can strain your eyes and make it difficult to see objects on your monitor. Florescent lights overhead and sunlight behind you are two of the worst culprits. If you can, turn off some or all the overhead lights and use an adjustable desk lamp. Close blinds or shades and avoid placing your monitor directly in front of a window or white wall. Invest in an anti-glare cover for your screen.
  • Adjust your monitor. Position your monitor directly in front of you (but an arm’s length away) so that the top of the screen is at or just below eye level. You may need to adjust your chair, too.
  • Fine tune your screen settings. Enlarge the type for easier reading and adjust the contrast and brightness to a level that's comfortable for you.
  • Get a document holder. If you need to glean information from paperwork while you work on your computer, use a document holder. There is a variety to choose from. Some are designed to fit between the keyboard and monitor; others are placed to the side. Find one that works for you. The idea is to decrease how much your eyes need to readjust and how often you turn your neck and head.

But the blue light glasses, you say? If they make your eyes feel better, or complete your outfit, use them. They’re unlikely to cause harm. But whether they help or not isn’t clear because the studies done on them have so far been too small and many are unscientific.

Your best bet is to keep your eyes hydrated with eye drops, take frequent breaks and turn your screens off an hour or two before bed. For more lifestyle and health content, visit the INTEGRIS Health blog.

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