Screen time is at an all-time high thanks to the pandemic. With work-from-home jobs, online classes, and well over a year of binge-watching new shows on Netflix, many have become acquainted with what’s known as digital eye strain. With such an increase in eye strain and other screen-related aches and pains, it’s not surprising that blue light glasses have become more popular than ever.
But do blue light glasses really work, or are they just a grab for cash?
Do Blue Light Glasses Actually Work?
Understanding What Blue Light Is
The range of colors in the visible light spectrum ranges from violet to red. On one side of the spectrum, there is red light, the longest wavelength humans can see, and on the other, there are the blues and violets, the shortest.
Blue light is a “high-energy visible light” (HEV) that hits the eye at a higher frequency than other wavelengths such as reds or yellows. The blue light that is emitted from the sun is also essential in regulating our sleep-wake cycles (circadian rhythm). It signals the body to wake up, and halts melatonin production.
Computers, televisions, cellphones, and virtually all other digital screens emit a very similar blue light. This type of light is thought to be harmful to the retina, which helps absorb light and send signals to the brain. However, since all light is sent to the retina, it is unclear why blue light is believed to be especially harmful. While there is not clear evidence for these claims, blue light is often linked to eye strain and frequent headaches.
Many believe that by filtering out this specific wavelength of light, the “negative” effects it has can be stopped. But do they work as advertised?
What Do Blue Light Glasses Claim to Do?
Manufacturers of blue light glasses claim that specially crafted lenses can prevent a multitude of different ailments. The most common claims made by blue-light-blocking lenses are their ability to reduce eye strain, prevent headaches, and help regulate the body’s sleep cycle. Let’s take a look at these claims to better understand why some believe they can help.
Reducing Eye Strain
Perhaps the largest, most common claim made in regards to blue light glasses is their ability to reduce eye strain. Many people have experienced eye strain at some point in their life. After staring at the computer screen for hours at a time, your eyes can feel tired or strained and will often become dry and irritated. This is known as digital eye strain.
Blue light glasses manufacturers claim that the light emitted from these digital screens is what causes eye strain. While this may sound credible at first, there is hardly any evidence to back up such claims. What does cause eye strain, however, is reduced blink rates.
When looking at a screen for prolonged periods, we tend to not blink as much as we would normally. On average, we blink about 15-20 times per minute. When looking at a screen, our blink rate tends to drop by nearly 66%—just five times per minute.
Long hours at the desk can result in headaches for a number of reasons. Blue light is often blamed for this phenomenon, as many believe that the strain caused by blue light on your eyes is what leads to frequent headaches and migraines. While it’s no secret that prolonged exposure to screens can cause headaches, there is little evidence that the culprit is blue light.
What does cause headaches when looking at screens is the strain it can place on the eyes. When looking at a screen, our eyes are being forced to focus on very bright light, and we tend to blink less often. As a result, the eyes can become tired, and continued focus on the screen can result in headaches or migraines. The real way to reduce headaches when using screens is to take frequent breaks and ensure you use screens at a proper distance from your eyes.
Help With Regulating the Sleep-Wake Cycle
This claim gets a bit tricky when you start to look into it. Many people find it harder to fall asleep after staring at a screen for a while. Manufacturers of blue light glasses insist that blue light is to blame, and they market their product as a solution to this issue.
This claim comes from the notion that blue light controls our circadian rhythm, which is true. The blue light that comes from the sun helps regulate the body’s sleep cycle. Putting two and two together, blocking the blue light from screens sounds like a good idea, but again, the evidence surrounding such claims is sparse at best.
One study conducted by scientists at the University of Toledo found that using blue light glasses could have positive effects on melatonin production, but more evidence is needed to better understand if this is a reliable effect of blue light glasses.
To put it simply: No, you don’t need blue light glasses. According to The American Academy of Ophthalmology, there is absolutely no need for blue light glasses. The organization has even gone on record to state there is no need for any kind of special eyewear for computer use. According to their guidance, blue light from digital devices does not lead to eye disease or eye strain.
Another study, conducted by Dr. Mark Rosenfield and his colleagues at the College of Optometry at the State University of New York, examined the effectiveness of blue light glasses on digital eye strain. In the team’s study, they used a filter that blocked out nearly 100% of blue light and had participants use an electronic reader for 30 minutes. They found that there was “no significant difference in symptoms, whether they were using the blue-blocking filter or they were just using a tinted lens, in effect.”
Instead of using blue light glasses, try some of these easy tips to help reduce eye strain and headaches when looking at screens.
The 20-20-20 Rule
Take regular breaks from the screen. Every 20 minutes, shift your eyes and look at an object at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds. Taking breaks from looking at the screen can help relax your eyes, improve your blink rate, and curb eye strain.
Use Eye Drops
Use eye drops throughout the day to help keep your eyes lubricated while you work at a computer. If you are in a warm room, you should also consider using a humidifier to add moisture to the air to help keep your eyes from drying out.
Sit Far Enough Away From Your Screen
Sit a proper distance from your computer (about 25 inches) when working. Most people sit too close to the computer which can cause eye strain and lead to headaches or migraines. And posture is another important thing to remember when looking at screens. Remember that a good office chair can go a long way in helping to reduce back and neck pain, which can also lead to chronic headaches.
So, do blue light glasses really work? Final verdict: not so much. Save yourself the money and start implementing some healthy practices when using screens.
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