We can’t help it—we just find ourselves checking, looking at, or laser-focused on our device screens. Whether for work or social media, it is estimated that there are more than 80 million electronic devices in , and residents’ average screen time is nine hours daily, more than an average work day.
Health hazards posed by extended exposure to blue-light emissions from digital devices continues to grow. The blue-light hazard refers to an acute photochemical damage to the retina caused by staring at an intense light source. Some countries have already instigated programs, and even legislation, to prevent the inevitable consequences of blue-light emissions, and notably, in consideration of the most vulnerable screen users, children.
“Sleep disruption [a leading cause of blue-light emission] has been associated with increased risk of multiple serious health problems, including high-blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type-2 diabetes, increased inflammation, emotional distress and mood disorders, memory problems, reduced academic performance, an increase in risk-taking behavior, and more,” said Dr. Gary Heiting, Eyesafe director of vision research and standards.
SEE: 10 apps to help manage work stress and mental health (TechRepublic)
To address the absorption with digital screens, California has declared Oct. 10 as Blue Light Awareness Day, a program backed by California state senator Dr. Richard Pan, who was approached by Eyesafe regarding the dangers of blue-light emissions.
Since California, “is most known for being a thought leader that often drives international precedent,” a spokesperson said, “officials are anxious that other states will soon follow suit.” Heiting noted that Maryland’s legislature unanimously passed the “Health and Safety Best Practices Digital Devices” bill, which was then signed into law. The bill requires the Maryland State Department of Education to make a list of best practices to regulate how students interact with screens in schools.
Pan teamed up with Eyesafe, a blue-light protection company that launched the first-ever handbook on blue light and the dangers of its emissions. More than half of adults (63%) do not realize that a health issue exists around blue light from LED displays. Blue light’s consequences include: Slowed blinking (and suppression of the eyes’ natural lubricants), sleep-pattern (circadian rhythm) interruption, the suppression of the helpful Melatonin, tired and sore eyes, dry eyes, and headaches.
While the consumer use of electronic devices “has exploded worldwide in the past 20 to 30 years,” Heiting said, the amount of daily screen time for children and adults “increased dramatically,” along with symptoms of eye strain, and the subsequent dry eyes, circadian rhythm disruption, fatigue, and memory loss.
SEE: Blue light and eyestrain: Sources and solutions (TechRepublic Premium)
Here are 10 tips for dealing with blue-light emissions for California’s Blue Light Awareness Day.
Get more sleep. This is probably the biggest takeaway from the study. More and more people are getting less sleep, and they’re using their devices beyond a traditional bedtime, to catch up on news or social media or study. Sleep deprivation affects mood, and thus everyone surrounding you. Sleep deprivation numbers for US children rose 33% over a five-year time frame starting in 2006. Sleep deprivation’s effects are insidious—it makes you less alert, causes headaches, increases mistakes, and zaps your energy.
Turn all devices off two hours before bedtime. Nighttime blue-light emissions from your phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop are where the most potential damage can happen. A Harvard Medical School study recommends that everyone (man, woman, and child) power off devices two hours before bedtime–and stick to it, even if you “just want to look something up” don’t. And, “if you like reading before bedtime, choose a traditional book or magazine rather than using an e-reader,” Heiting said.
Slide down the brightness of your screen. You’re not alone; many people keep their screen brightness on max, no matter what time of day. Once you’ve adjusted the slider, the brightness compensation is not based on the viewer’s perspective.
Delay and monitor your children’s smartphone usage. Unless it’s absolutely imperative your child has a smartphone, put off giving them one as long as you can. A massive increase in nearsightedness has been associated with overexposure to blue-light emissions through mobile phones or tablets. Among adolescents, the highest ownership is in Asia—a 2017 study revealed 85% of young South Koreans had smartphones, compared with 50% for US adolescents. Parents should be aware of the potential, and perhaps secret, use of the device after bedtime. Make it a habit to collect devices two hours before bedtime, and only return the devices in the morning.
Return to the days of television watching or passive (and distant) viewing. TV not only emits less blue light, but the distance between viewer and device, and lack of interaction is valuable. Distance, the study noted, is also an issue, albeit a limited fix for smartphone and tablet use. If adults hold their devices too close to their faces (thus increasing exposure), children’s smaller arms make that distance even closer. A television is naturally farther away.
Use an overlay screen to filter the blue-light emissions on all device screens, and make sure it meets RPF standards. There are screen filters that turn the light more amber, or you can wear specifically designed computer glasses to protect your eyes.
Use an app. Download an app that filters the screen and offers a blue-light reduction mode.
Come on, get happy. After a blue-light filter screen session, participants were more cheerful than unfiltered screen participants and their memory was better than their unfiltered counterparts. They were also able to be more focused.
Put some distance between you. The mean distance from a screen to a person’s eyes is 13.3 inches for smartphone use and 15.6 inches for tablet use. Try to make changes to text size, screen glare, and gaze angle. It’s not a surprise that constantly looking down at a screen can also cause neck strain and even damage.
Eyes on the prize. It may be hard to quit these habits, but do it. Avoid screen time while driving–no texting or checking to see if you have messages or notifications. Don’t look at your screen while crossing the street. Always use a blue-light filter before bed and turn everything off two hours prior. Avoid continuous screen use in a darkened room.
Consider using the 20-20-20 guidelines: For every 20 minutes of screen time, focus your eyes for at least 20 seconds on an object that is 20 ft. away. Although there is no research to back it up, vision-care professionals often recommend it. The 20-20-20 guideline does not deal with blue-light exposure, and does not work at night or in darkened conditions, where there is no object in sight other than a screen.
Critically, if you are fully aware of the risks involved with your can’t-look-away-from device screens, you will be more likely to make better decisions about how you’re looking at your screen, how long and how often you’re looking at it, and when it’s time to put the screen down and away.
For more, check out TechRepublic’s article, Does Apple need to choose between consumer and B2B in health?