From eye damage to breast cancer, exposure to digital screens’ blue light is linked to a number of health conditions.

Whether it’s a mobile phone, TV or the computer at work, when you add it up, we spend hours every day exposed to digital screens’ blue light.

In fact, a mere two hours of screen time is linked to digital eye strain, which can include visual fatigue, headaches, blurred vision, red eyes, back and neck pain, and headaches

What is all the fuss about blue light?

Simply put, blue light is a range of the visible light spectrum emitted by most white LEDs, computer tablet and phone screens.

For some time there has been concern about the effect it has on our eyes, particularly the developing eyes of children, and now recent research has even linked blue light exposure to cancer.

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Let’s take a closer look at the effects of blue light and then find out what we can do to protect ourselves…

How blue light affects our eyes

“Blue light is harmful to eyes because it has the highest energy wavelength of visible light which penetrates right through the eyes’ natural filters, to the back of the eye,” explains Ruahan Naude, CEO at Dynamic Vision, the longest running group of independent Optometrists in South Africa.

According to Naude, blue light exposure over time can cause permanent damage to the back of the eyes increasing the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and permanent vision loss.

How blue light affects children

Naude explains that children under the age of 18 are especially at risk because their eyes are still developing.

“Their eyes do not have adequate protective pigments to filter out some of the blue light so the more time they spend staring at screens, the more their eyes are exposed to the harmful effects of blue light without any protective filtering.”

What’s more, blue light exposure can negatively affect children’s sleep and their weight.

A study by Penn State College of Medicine found that children who watched TV or used their cell phones before bed had less sleep, poorer sleep quality, more fatigue in the morning and – in the– higher body mass indexes (BMI).

How blue light affects sleep

If you think reading articles on a smartphone, tablet or watching a little TV in bed will help you sleep, think again.

Like the blue light emitted from the sun, digital blue light boosts alertness. So even long after the sun has set, exposure to digital blue light is telling our internal body clock that it’s still daytime – hello insomnia.

Researchers from the University of Houston College of Optometry found proof when reduced participants’ blue light exposure by getting them to wear short wavelength-blocking glasses three hours before bed for two weeks. The result was a 58 percent increase in night-time melatonin levels, the chemical that signals your body that it’s time to sleep.

“The most important takeaway is that blue light at night time really does decrease sleep quality. Sleep is very important for the regeneration of many functions in our body,” said lead researcher, Dr Lisa Ostrin.

Blue light increases the risk of cancer

A study of more than 4 000 people found that people exposed to higher levels of blue light had either a 1,5 higher risk of developing breast and a two-fold risk of developing prostate cancer, compared to the less-exposed population.

6 Ways to protect yourself from digital blue light

Now that you know a bit more about the dangers, here are some practical ways to protect yourself from blue light:

1. Cut down on email admin

If you need to discuss something with anyone, set a time to meet or give them a call rather than spend hours emailing or texting back and forth.

2. Look away from your computer every 20 minutes

Gaze at a distant object for at least 20 seconds before looking back at the screen. While it doesn’t block blue light, it does give your eyes a little break and helps reduced digital eye strain.

3. Turn off the TV when you aren’t watching or enjoying it

Break the habit of leaving the TV on in your home and don’t watch what TV unless you want to – life’s too short to watch a bad movie. Instead, read a book or tune into interesting podcasts.

4. Set a cut off time in the evening

If you tend to get lost online in the evening, set a timer or an alarm to help you stick to a cut off time. Once that alarm goes off, turn off all the screens and put them away so that you’re not tempted.

“I don’t look at my laptop in the evenings at all and I sleep with my phone in another room so I ‘m not tempted to look at it before I fall asleep or if I wake up in the night,” says Sasha Wyatt-Minter, All4women editor.

Aim to give yourself at least two hours before going to bed of screen-free time to read a book, work on a craft project or have a little cuddle time with your partner.

“I have made a choice not to look at my phone before bed, and rather to read a book. I find that I struggle to fall asleep quickly if I look at electronics before bed,” says Claire Warneke, All4Women’s deputy editor, “Reading is a great way to relax my mind and my eyes. If I’m struggling to sleep, then I listen to a podcast on my phone instead of watching something. My favourite podcast is 99% Invisible by Roman Mars.”

5. Try (free) apps

For your computer – If you love reading All4women.co.za and other online articles, you could download the free ‘Read Aloud’ app and have articles read aloud to you while you do something else.

I recently download it and, although it sounds a bit robotic, it’s a pleasure to be able to listen to articles while I cook and clean.

For your mobile phone – Upgrade your smartphone by installing a free blue light filter app.

Simply Visit ‘Google Play’ and search for a blue light filter. There are lots of apps to choose from, so find the one that works for you. You can always uninstall and try a new one.

6. Invest in blue light filters

It’s going to a cost you a bit, but if you spend a lot of time looking at a screen, it may be worth your while getting computer glasses or buying a blue light filter that fits on the computer screen.

Alternatively, you could have a blue light filter lens added to your prescription glasses. If you have kids, you could purchase pairs of blue light filter specs to help protect their eyes when they watch TV or play on the computer.

Speak to your optometrist about the various optical blue light filtering options for you and your family.

Nowadays it’s hard to avoid screen time altogether, but a few steps to minimise the effects of screens’ blue light can go a long way to protect your health.

Sources:All4women: Do you suffer from digital eye strain? and The danger of screen time before bed,  University of Houston College of OptometryBarcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and 

Penn State

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.