STORY BY: SARAH WHELDEN HALL
In an extremely fast-paced world where new technologies are emerging and weaving their way into both professional and personal tasks daily, students rely on virtual resources for school, work, and entertainment now more than ever. As a result of this, screens are consuming copious amounts of time that could instead be put towards kinetic activities that stimulate our bodies as well as our brains. With this increased reliance, how does a technologically-driven lifestyle affect our health? What are the downfalls and how can we prevent this lifestyle from causing permanent damage?
Eyewear companies such as Felix Gray have promoted the use of “blue-light glasses”, which are intended to block the harmful blue light rays emitted from practically all electronic devices. Although, as stated by UAB Medicine, “no research has conclusively shown that blue light causes long-term harm, eye disease, or retina damage,” conflicting opinions on the effectiveness of this product and offer alternatives to diminishing eye strain are widespread.
Screen exposure has the most profound effect on developing brains as opposed to an adult brain at full maturity. One of the more evident consequences is a change in mood and behavior, which indicates an effect on one’s mental health. According to Forbes magazine, “teens [who spend more time on electronic devices] are expressing higher rates of depression and loneliness” despite their feeling more “connected” with people through social media. If the threat of a decline in mental health is not reason enough to decrease the amount of time we spend on devices, consider the cognitive repercussions.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), stated that “children who consume two hours of media a day have lower thinking and language scores on tests” than their non media watching counterparts (Vox Magazine). Considering the fact that a large percentage of adolescents spend close to, if not more than, two hours a day on digital screens, our generation needs to be more time conscious for the sake of our mental and neurological health. Active Health reiterates the effect of screens on one’s cognitive ability even further, claiming that every 30 minutes spent watching television can delay our learning at a rate “as much as 50% higher” than if we spent it away from screens. With this in mind, it is evident that spending excessive amounts of time on electronic devices can have lasting effects on our health, though it begs the question on short-term effects.
Blue light constitutes for “one-third of all visible light” and can be found both artificially and naturally according to an article by UC Davis Health. Artificial blue light emitted at a relatively small concentration originates from televisions, cell phones, computers and any other man-made devices. Spending consecutive hours staring at screens can lead to dry, itchy eyes and difficulty concentrating. It can also make it more difficult to fall and stay asleep, especially when electronic devices are used right before bedtime. This is because blue light stimulates alertness in the brain and makes it harder for the brain to enter into “the deep REM sleep essential for processing and storing information from that day into memory” according to research by Harvard Medical School.
The most potent source of blue light emanates naturally from the sun. Rahul Khurana, an ophthalmologist and clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, claims that the strength of blue light emitted from our devices is only a small fraction of the sun’s blue light, and attributes eye discomfort not to the blue light itself but rather to “staring at a screen for hours without breaks” according to The Strategist Magazine. We can assume that the use of blue light glasses is somewhat redundant for lessening the negative effects of screens on our eyes. In fact, blue light in its natural form can help with alertness, memory and mood, and “regulates […] circadian rhythm, the body’s natural wake and sleep cycle” as stated by UC Davis Health. Khurana suggests implementing the 20/20/20 rule as a means of preventing negative byproducts of screen exposure:
“For every 20 minutes of usage, look away for 20 seconds and focus on something 20 feet away,” he said.
Another alternative to blue light glasses would be the use of “blue-light filters” for handheld devices, which are believed to block a large quantity of blue light from reaching the eyes “without affecting the visibility of the display” according to UC Davis Health. If your main symptom is eye dryness, a simpler and less financially demanding solution would be the use of eye drops from a local drugstore.
Though the use of blue light glasses may not necessarily prevent retinal damage, there are some observed benefits to using them. They usually contain some sort of filter or tint on the lenses, which acts as a deflective mechanism against harmful rays of blue light. As stated in an article by Vox Magazine Dr. John Jarstad, an associate professor in ophthalmology and eye surgery at The University of Missouri, said that “any kind of tint in glasses while on the computer [will] act as some type of a moisture chamber effect” and decrease the likelihood of dryness developing in the eyes. So although there is no evidence of blue light blockers preventing long-term damage, they can benefit people who spend copious amounts of time on screens by curtailing the amount of blue light that reaches the eyes. According to UC Davis Health, blue light glasses have the potential to “help people […] have a more restful sleep” by diminishing the stimulation of the brain caused by blue light and can temporarily reduce eye dryness. With such a variety of opinions regarding the true effectiveness of blue light glasses, it is ultimately up to each individual person to decide whether or not they are a worthwhile purchase.