With the average American now spending more than 10 hours a day staring at a screen, it’s no surprise that there’s been a lot of talk about the impact devices have on just about everything – from our brains and learning patterns to relationships and rising obesity rates.
In a recent iPhone software update, Apple rolled out Screen Time settings, designed to give you a better idea of how much time you’re spending on certain apps – and on your phone in general. And smartphones are just the start of it.
Many of us work on computers all day and then watch TV or surf the web on a tablet once we’re home at night. We stare at a screen for most of the day and don’t power down until it’s time for bed. Then we wake up and repeat!
So what’s the main concern with all this screen time and how’s it affecting us? For starters, it has a lot to do with the blue light that’s being emitted from the screens. Blue light has a shorter wavelength than other types of light, which impacts the body in two significant ways.
Sleep Artificial light, like blue light, affects sleep patterns because it tricks the brain into thinking it’s daytime. Our bodies have a circadian rhythm, a 24-hour internal clock that sends signals to our brain telling us when it’s time to fall asleep or wake up. And when this natural rhythm is disrupted by blue light, it makes us more alert and awake. It also suppresses melatonin, a hormone that tells the body when to go to sleep. So you might have a harder time falling asleep and then a hard time falling into a deep sleep.
Vision Ever stare at a screen for so long that your eyes started to feel itchy and red? Thanks in part to artificial light, headaches and blurred vision are common side effects of looking at a device for extended periods of time. More recently, the threat of long-term retina damage has become a concern of extensive blue light activity.
We don’t think twice about wearing sunglasses and avoid looking directly at the sun because we know exposure to ultraviolet rays is bad for us. However, after spending more than 10 hours a day looking at blue light, it’s possible that the effects will impact us later in life. For now, here are a few simple ways to protect yourself (your eyes will thank you!):
Less screen time: One of the easiest ways to reduce the effects of blue light is by spending less time looking at a screen. While it might be difficult to do this if your job requires you to be on a computer, you can still be mindful of the devices you’re using outside work hours. We recommend powering down at least 2–3 hours before bed for more quality sleep!
Filters for smartphones and tablets: Adjust the colors on your smartphone using one of the filters provided by iPhone, Android, and Galaxy. You can set the blue light filter to appear from sunset to sunrise or more specific hours. Plus, you can purchase screen shields for your tablets and smartphones to minimize the amount of blue light emitted.
Computer glasses: Different from regular reading glasses, computer glasses are specifically designed to improve your eyesight when looking at a computer screen. By filtering out blue light and eliminating glare, computer glasses are worth trying, especially if you work on a computer for several hours throughout the day.
While you might not feel the effects of blue light yet, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t proceed with caution. It’s important to evaluate how much time you spend in front of a screen each day, when you can cut back, and how to protect yourself from too much blue light.