How do you like to unwind at the end of the day? Maybe you watch a favorite television show, scroll through social media feeds, or play games on an electronic device. In this 24/7, always-on world, chances are you check your text messages or e-mail one last time before closing your eyes for the night, or fall asleep to the sounds of late-night television hosts. For many of us, screentime is a part of our nightly routine. But by exposing us to blue light, our nighttime screentime may be taking a toll on our health. Get to know the health effects of blue screens and the light they emit now.
Eyestrain And Damage
Looking at screens all day can cause eyestrain and damage. Just like any other muscle, eye muscles get worn out from overuse. We also blink less when we are looking at screens, up to half as much as our usual blink rate, which leads to dry, irritated eyes. Researchers are increasingly understanding the special risks blue light poses for our eyes. A study conducted at the University of Toledo found blue light can damage the retina. As we get older, the damaging effects of blue light become greater. Our eyes’ natural defenses against blue light begin to decrease, putting us at greater risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in older adults.
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The eyestrain from too much time in front of screens can lead to some major headaches. Blue light, in particular, can also trigger migraines. Blue light can cause oxidative stress, a condition in which there is an imbalance between environmental pressures and the body’s ability to respond to those pressures. When the eyes experience oxidative stress, a migraine is triggered. Researchers believe migraines are actually a protective mechanism to prevent blindness, and when we have migraines, we usually avoid screens and seek out low-light spaces, reducing the oxidative stress and avoiding further damage.
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Blue light is important during the daytime, especially the blue light emitted by the sun. It increases attention and boosts our mood, and exposure to it during the day helps set our circadian rhythm, which is the body’s internal clock that tells us when to sleep and when to wake. Exposure to blue light at night, however, does just the opposite. Even at low levels, blue light disrupts the circadian rhythm and prevents the release of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate our sleep cycle. This disruption can lead to poor quality sleep or insomnia, resulting in fatigue the next day.
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The fatigue from sleep deprivation affects our mood. Most of us are cranky, irritable, and short-tempered after even just one night of poor sleep. Continual sleep disruption from exposure to blue light can set us on an emotional rollercoaster. But changes to our circadian rhythm can have more serious effects on our mood as well. Studies have found structural changes in the brains of individuals who have significant disruptions to their circadian rhythms. These disruptions can also affect the expression of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which are essential to mood regulation.
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Increases Risk For Conditions
Exposure to blue light at night also increases risk for conditions such as depression cancer, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Our natural circadian rhythms allow time for our bodies to rest and rejuvenate. During sleep, our cells regenerate; our blood pressure drops and our breathing slows, giving our hard-working systems a chance to relax. Some research even suggests our brains use sleep time to develop new pathways for learning and memory. By disrupting our natural rhythms, blue light disrupts all of these essential processes. Exposure to blue light at night can have other physical effects as well. For example, a Harvard study found shifts in our natural circadian rhythms can cause our blood sugar levels rise to a prediabetic state, while lowering levels of leptin, a hormone that helps us to feel full after a meal.