The Nighttime Threat That Can Ruin Your Vision — and Your Sleep
Smartphones are ubiquitous these days; so much so that it’s become hard to imagine our modern world without them. But as has been widely discussed, smartphones also carry risks, including the disruption of sleeping patterns, promoting bad posture and straining necks, EMF exposure, and causing finger and wrist joint pain. And now, more and more attention is being paid to the damaging effect that smartphones may have on your vision, perhaps with even long-term implications.
What is Blue Light?
Blue light is an inherent part of the natural spectrum of visible light, and therefore something that we are exposed to constantly. In natural settings that are illuminated by the sun, blue light does not pose any serious risk. In fact, there are many situations in which blue light is beneficial. Blue light from the sun may help us to wake up, by directing the brain to stop production of melatonin, a hormone the body produces to aid the sleep cycle. In this way, blue light can be beneficial in that both exposure to blue light in the morning and the absence of blue light at night, helps to promote a healthy, natural cycle of sleep and alertness.
But when blue light is concentrated in an electronic device, it presents a different dynamic altogether. Electronic devices, and especially smartphones, utilize blue light because it is particularly bright and easier to see on an electronic display. However, when we are exposed to blue light at this higher intensity and proximity—especially at night time—it can interfere with the process of melatonin production and make sleep more difficult.
The Health Risks of Unnatural Blue Light Exposure
When blue light interferes with the body’s natural sleep cycle, the negative health implications can be greater than simply getting a bad night’s sleep. In fact, there are many, many negative effects of poor sleep, ranging from general pain, mental difficulties, and behavioral problems to increasing the risk of very serious diseases such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. Furthermore, many people become more prone to depression, further exacerbating the impact of the aforementioned problems.
Just as alarming, the negative impact of blue light at night does not end with sleep disturbance and its ramifications. The body of research is growing and ongoing, as this phenomenon is a relatively new development, but blue light has been shown to damage the retina and cause macular degeneration, leading to poor vision. Interestingly, some physicians have even stated that they believe blue light exposure can cause cataracts at early ages. Finally, the interference that blue light causes in melatonin production may go beyond simply disrupting the sleep cycle. Melatonin functions as an antioxidant in the body as well, meaning that suppressing its production could directly lead to a greater risk of a variety of cancers.
How to Protect Yourself From the Dangers Associated With Smartphones and Blue Light
While more research is required to better understand the health effects of blue light, it is already clear that blue light at night does have a negative impact. Therefore, the most basic way to lessen your health risks is to limit the amount of time that you spend on your smartphone—or computer or tablet for that matter—at night. Consider discontinuing your use of such electronics well in advance of your bed time, thus allowing your body to produce melatonin without disruption, to promote a better night’s sleep.
Also, consider finding ways to lessen your time on such devices in general, whether it means more printing, more frequent breaks, or simply less use altogether. Our knowledge of the many risks posed by smartphones continues to be refined, but that does not mean that now is not the right time to make adjustments.
And lastly, if you’re sometimes forced to use your devices into the evening hours, it may be worth your time and money to consider either an screen-adjusting app or screen cover that filters wavelengths that fall within the blue light spectrum of light. Here are a few options:
Derek is a technical writer and editor with 10 years of experience in the health care field, having first earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Delaware. He is a contributing author on a number of textbooks in the medical field, ran a nuclear cardiology licensing course, and has written a variety of other pieces from online training courses to medical software manuals. Derek pursues his personal interest in health and wellness by playing multiple sports and running marathons. An insatiable traveler, he spent 16 months working and living abroad while traveling through South America, Europe, and Southeast Asia.