Putting a child to bed is an everyday challenge for parents, but the proliferation of digital devices has made it more difficult in recent years. Despite all efforts, it’s not all that unusual for a parent to find their child hiding under a blanket with a smartphone long after “lights out.” Worse, increased use of digital devices and overexposure to blue light can be harmful to your vision, especially around bedtime.

“The eyes are always working, whether you are sleeping or awake,” explains Dr. Vivienne Velasco of iFocus Vision Center. “Too much exposure from blue light has been known to affect sleep patterns and circadian rhythms – the internal sleep-wake cycle sometimes known as your ‘body clock.’”

What Is Blue Light?

Blue light is one of several electromagnetic rays on the visible light spectrum, alongside red, orange, yellow, green, indigo, and violet, and is one of the many rays in sunlight. Although blue light has many benefits – boosting alertness, elevating mood, and helping memory – it is harmful in prolonged doses. Just like staring at the sun’s ultraviolet rays, you don’t want too much blue light in your life.

Unfortunately, blue light is also prevalent in everything from fluorescent lighting to smartphones, LED televisions, computer monitors, and tablet screens. A July 2019 survey by Sell Cell estimated that 42 percent of children ages 4-14 were spending more than 30 hours per week on their smartphones. As it’s unlikely that any adult or child can be completely cut off from these technologies, it’s important to absorb blue light in moderation and understand the risks of overexposure.

How Does Blue Light Affect the Eyes?

Digital eyestrain is the most common condition that can arise from overexposure to blue light — something that anyone who has worked long hours in front of a computer screen can relate to.

Additionally, Dr. Velasco says too much blue light can damage retinal cells, which can lead to sight-threatening conditions such as age-related macular degeneration or cataracts. Prolonged exposure to blue light can also lead to dry eyes and eye irritation, such as a burning or stinging sensation.

Is More Sleep the Solution?

An early bedtime is not the answer, Dr. Velasco says. Rather, she recommends putting your phone (or your child’s phone) to sleep at an earlier time.

“Screen time should be limited to no less than two hours before bedtime,” she says. “Your eyes and your body need time to power down.

“When you’re not getting the right sleep, your eyes can look puffy when you wake up, or worse, you can wake up with dry and itchy eyes.”

What Else Reduces Blue Light?

Special filters can reduce the impact from screens, and something as simple as lowering the brightness can also limit your exposure. However, Dr. Velasco recommends parents talk to their kids about the dangers of too much screen time and how it affects their vision.

“Separating a young person from their phone can be like pulling teeth,” she says. “But it helps to think of a device like you’d think of a car, it’s a privilege to have and it comes with some responsibility.

“Having an honest conversation about safety can go a long way toward ensuring everyone gets a good night’s sleep.”

For more information about blue light exposure, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Velasco, contact iFocus Vision Center online or call 702-472-5660.