As may already have read or heard, blue light is responsible for a whole host of problems including difficulty sleeping and even obesity. A recent essay published in Fastco Design cited research that concluded blue light was responsible for inhibiting the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep cycles. Such is the growing awareness of the problems caused by overexposure to blue light that a range of companies have been created to address it. In this article, we’ll outline exactly why blue light is so damaging and which steps you can take to minimize the damage it causes.
Why can light be harmful?
To understand the dangers posed by blue light, it is first necessary to understand how light interacts with the human eye. Different colors of light have different wavelengths and different levels of energy called electromagnetic radiation. Light rays with the longest wavelengths have the lowest energy, while those with the longest wavelengths have the highest energy.
Red light, for instance, is near the beginning of the visible spectrum and is comprised of long, low energy waves. Red is easy on the eyes and is often used in low-light situations such as the instrument panels of military and commercial jets for this very reason. Blue light, however, is made up of high energy waves. In fact, it is the highest energy light on the visible spectrum. Unlike red light and other lower energy light, blue light can penetrate our eyes right to the back of the retina.
Blue light isn’t all bad
It is important to note that high energy light, including blue light, is essential for enjoying a healthy life. Sunlight is the biggest source of blue light and the high energy light we get from the sun in the morning helps us wake up by bringing our melatonin levels down. This cycle of sleeping and waking is known as our circadian rhythm and its regulated by melatonin. The latest research clearly shows that high energy has many important benefits: it elevates our mood, helps our cognitive function and memory, and boosts our alertness.
- problem with blue light is that it can disrupt our circadian rhythm by reducing the amount of melatonin released in the body. If your melatonin levels fall too low, this can cause exhaustion and actually inhibit our ability to sleep. This is where blue light from digital sources can have an impact: if we’re using laptops or phones until late into the night, we can find it more difficult to sleep.
It’s blue light from digital sources that you need to watch
Just like the blue light in the natural sunlight, the blue light emitted from OLED and LED screens can penetrate right to the back of our eyes. Despite the fact that sunglasses and welding helmets are designed to block HEV, this kind of light is emitted from all manner of devices including tablets, phones and laptops.
This has contributed to a wide range of problems, especially when you consider that between 2016 and 17, we spent an average of 10.4 hours per day on digital devices including computers. Nearsightedness is the most prevalent problem in the world today and has led to the emergence of what’s called ‘computer vision syndrome’ or digital eye strain.
What problems does blue light cause?
Children under the age of 14 are especially at risk of high HEV-exposure as their corneas aren’t fully developed. The sharp increase in the number of nearsightness diagnoses among children is most likely due to prolonged exposure to HEV via digital devices.
While anyone over the age of 14 with fully developed corneas will have a certain level of protection against blue light, adults have their own set of issues including the fact that energy can ‘build up’ in our eyes over time. This can lead to exhaustion, eye strain and sleep-related problems.
How is industry responding to the problem of HEV?
Companies are well aware of the problems caused by HEV and are developing solutions. For example, the Healthe webstore sells blue-filter covers that you can buy and fit over your mobile phone, laptop or even VR goggles. Healthe is developing a special dye that can filter out HEV when layered onto glass or a clear adhesive. As Healthe has partnered with major automotive glass companies, commercial applications of this dye should be available in the near future. According to design advocate Amber Case, next year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) will feature phones that integrate the same type of blue-filtering dye being developed by companies such as a Healthe.
How can you avoid blue light?
Here are five solutions for dealing with blue light and avoiding the damage caused by HEV.
- Use Flux on your computer or laptop
If you are a heavy laptop or computer user, you can use Flux or a similar program to decrease the amount of blue light emitted from the screen. There are hundreds of free programs available online.
- Use an app on your mobile device
There are hundreds of free apps that will help reduce the amount of blue light emitted from the screen of your mobile device. For example, Android users can download a free app called Twilight that will help cut blue-light. iPhone users can use Night Shift, found by going to ‘Settings’ and ‘Display’. iPhones also have a Color Tint feature that will help. However, we still suggest wearing HEV-filtering glasses if you need to use your phone at night-time.
- Buy HEV-filtering glasses or contact lenses
While computer and mobile apps are useful, they do tend to dim all types of light instead of just cutting out the harmful blue light. Therefore, one of the best ways to block blue light without changing the other colors is to use HEV glasses or contact lenses.
If you already wear glasses or contact lenses, you could speak to your optometrist about HEV-filtering lenses. If you don’t need glasses you can also buy HEV-blocking glasses from companies such as TrueDark. There are also many brands of blue-light blocking glasses on popular shopping sites such as Amazon for you to choose from. These glasses are completely clear, yet block around 40 percent of HEV. TrueDark also produces night-time glasses that block 100 percent of blue light, for use just before bedtime.
- Buy blue filter covers
As mentioned above, the Healthe webstore sells blue-filter covers for a range of devices. If you don’t need or don’t want to wear glasses, covering your devices with these filters will give your eyes some degree of protection and is more comfortable and convenient than wearing glasses.
- Buy smart!
Have you noticed how prevalent blue light is in the tech industry? It’s the epitome of cool and often features strongly in many trendy products. Smarter buying choices can help if you simply avoid buying devices that emit a strong blue light. For example, if you are buying a new fan for your PC, you could choose one with no lights and avoid fans with blue LEDs. If buying a product without blue LEDs is impossible to avoid, such as when purchasing a refrigerator, for example, simply covering the touchscreen or lights with small drapes is one solution.
Personally, I’ve seen a marked improvement in my own sleep patterns since I started wearing HEV-filtering glasses. I don’t need glasses, so it does feel odd to wear frames, but as I’m a heavy computer user, I can tell that the lenses are helping. I plan on buying HEV-blocking film for my laptop and phone in the near future and I look forward to seeing phones that come with blue-filtering built-in at next year’s CES. I hope to see more devices having this filtering as standard in the future.