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How Blue Light Can Affect Your Health


For the eye to see, light waves reflect off objects, which are received by the eyes. Blue light is one of the several light waves visible to the human eye. It is a part of the natural light from the sun but is also now conducted artificially from electronics. Receptors in the eyes and brain receive these blue light waves.

Blue light benefits

Natural blue light is emitted from the sun and is relatively safe. During the day, natural blue light helps increase attention, reactivity, and improves mood. Blue light directly affects the body’s circadian rhythms, which are the body’s biological cycles that run on a 24-hour cycle. These cycles include regulating body temperature, hormones, sleep, and more. The circadian rhythm controls chemicals in the brain that respond to light exposure, as well as mood stabilizers like melatonin and serotonin, both of which help with sleep and mood regulation.

With proper exposure, blue light provides many benefits for the

  • Treats and improves acne and other skin diseases
  • Treats jaundice in newborns
  • Provides benefits for Seasonal Affective Disorder
  • Decreases fatigue
  • Improves alterness

Negative effects

Blue light also has negative effects when it illuminates from smartphones; tablets; computer screens; flat screen televisions, and other electronics, which are getting more use every day. Note: LED lights and fluorescent lights also emit blue light, which can prove harmful to vision as well.

While blue light can improve how people feel during the day, it also affects how they feel at night - more awake than usual. This is because blue light is known to promote wakefulness around the clock, which means the use of bright LED or fluorescent lights and electronic screens can negatively impact sleep patterns.

It’s important to remember that since blue light stimulates the brain to keep people alert, it also decreases Melatonin - which the brain produces during night hours to help promote sleep. Being exposed to blue light through electronic devices during darkness interferes with REM sleep, which is necessary for people to achieve in order to get proper rest. In other words, blue light exposure in the evening is known to delay melatonin release, which leads to insomnia and delayed sleep cycles. This is also true for people who sleep with lights, TVs, or other electronics on. Because of these facts, it is recommended that people turn off all electronic devices at least 2 hours before bedtime.

The above facts also hold true for people who sleep with lights, TVs, or other electronics on, so remember to get away from being exposed to blue light at night.

Altering circadian rhythms can negatively impact your health. Not only does it cause poor sleep patterns, but it can alter other hormone releases resulting in metabolic problems, and mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

Blue light and eye risks?

Some medical reports state that blue light can damage your eyes; however, recent studies show that there’s little evidence to support this statement. Keep in mind though, that evidence does point out the negative impact blue light can have on Circadian rhythms and sleep, but not on your eyes, in terms of vision problems that is.

It is a fact that the increased use of screens causes eye discomfort, which results from eye strain, not damage from blue light exposure. Eye strain can develop from the frequent use of digital devices. Symptoms include, like dry eyes; watery eyes; blurred vision; sensitivity to light, headache; neck pain; tiredness; burning eyes, and red eyes.

Who’s at risk?

Anyone who frequently uses electronic screens, or who spends long periods under fluorescent or LED lighting, is exposed to blue light. Exposure to natural blue light from the sun is encouraged with appropriate sun protection.

Blue light avoidance recommendations

For eyes:

  • When it comes to screen use, frequent breaks are best. Give your eyes time to rest, and avoid fatigue. The 20-20-20 rule in an option; look at something 20 feet away, every 20 minutes for 20 seconds.
  • Avoid symptoms of eye strain by using artificial tear, if needed. Sit at least arm's length from your computer, tablet, or phone screen, and adjust the screen or font size, so you don't need to strain to see fonts and images.
  • Blue light glasses are not proven to protect from blue light exposure, and they may or may not help reduce eye strain. There is also no negative effect from using them.

To improve circadian rhythms be aware of what devices emit blue lights, and limit exposure:

  • Fluorescent lights
  • LED lights
  • Smarthphones
  • Televisions
  • Computer screens
  • Tablets
  • E-readers (ex. Kindles)
  • Video game consoles
  • Handheld devices

Stop use of blue light devices 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. It is also suggested you use dim lights in the evenings and just before bed, or use incandescent lighting rather than LED or fluorescent lights. Use screen dimmers during the day to reduce blue light emissions, and do not use digital electronics after dark.

Use a red or orange lamp at the bedside for reading, since these light waves are less offensive and do not disrupt rhythms!

Blue light caution

Please note that exposure to blue light for skin therapies can cause these side effects:

  • Discoloration of skin in infants and adults
  • An increase in moles and freckles can develop from exposure
  • Headaches may develop
  • Use caution in those with photosensitivity

Key take-aways

Blue light directly affects the body’s circadian rhythms. Altering them can negatively impact your health.

At risk is anyone who frequently uses electronic screens, or who spends long periods under fluorescent or LED lighting.

References

University of Wisconsin-Madison. What is Light?

Harvard Health Publishing. Blue light has a dark side

ScienceDirect. Caramelo Gomes, C. & Preto, S. Protect your eyes from harmful light

National Library of Medicine. Kleinpenning, M., et al. Clinical and histological effects of blue light on normal skin

National Library of Medicine. American Academy of Pediatrics Subcommittee on Hyperbilirubinemia.Management of hyperbilirubinemia in the newborn infant 35 or more weeks of gestation

National Library of Medicine.Beaven, C. & Ekström, J. A Comparison of Blue Light and Caffeine Effects on Cognitive Function and Alertness in Humans

Sleep Foundation. How Blue Light Affects Sleep

Mayo Clinic. Protect your eyes from harmful light

Cleveland Clinic. Do Blue Light Glasses Work?

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