If you’ve ever suffered from itchy, dry, and red eyes after a long day of staring at your computer, you’ve probably been tempted to purchase a pair of blue-light-blocking glasses, which filter out the active blue light — a.k.a. the kind that promotes wakefulness — before it reaches our eyeballs. If so, you’re certainly not alone. According to the Vision Council, a group that represents eyeglasses manufacturers, about 60 percent of Americans surveyed experience some symptoms of digital eyestrain due to extended time in front of the screen, and with that fear, a cottage industry of blue-light-filtering glasses has emerged over the last few years.
But according to Rahul Khurana, an ophthalmologist and clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, digital eyestrain and the negative effects of blue light on your eyes are two separate concerns. “We keep on thinking about blue lights from our computers and smartphones, but the reality is we get more exposure from blue light from the sunlight.” It’s not the blue light that’s making your eyes feel bad after a day of staring at the computer — it’s staring at a screen for hours without breaks. That’s why he doesn’t recommend any special eyewear for daily computer use. “Ultimately, I’m not really sure how it’s going to help with digital eyestrain, which really is what’s bothering people,” says Dr. Khurana.
The digital eyestrain that bothers most people can occur “whenever you focus on anything, from reading a book, looking at a screen, or watching TV,” says Dr. Khurana, and it can be alleviated by shifting your eyes every 20 minutes or so onto something that’s 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. If that doesn’t help, Dr. Khurana recommends artificial tears to help lubricate dry eyes.
When blue-light glasses can be useful, though, is at night, when blue light from screens can disrupt natural sleep patterns. Our bodies associate blue light with daytime, so being exposed to it when you’re trying to go to bed “pushes our internal clock later so that it’s harder to fall asleep and harder to wake up in the morning,” says Cathy Goldstein, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center.
In a perfect world, you’d start to avoid blue-enriched light from screens four hours before bedtime. “That is hard for a lot of people to swallow,” admits Goldstein, “so we do sometimes recommend blue light-blocking glasses at that time.” And there’s a growing body of research to back up the claim that blocking blue light before bed can help you sleep better. In one study, from 2009, volunteers who wore blue-light-blocking glasses three hours before bedtime reported better sleep quality and mood than those who didn’t. A more recent study of teenage boys found similar results.
If you want to use the same blue-light-blocking glasses they do in the lab, go for Uvex. “They’re usually less than $10, and these have been used in studies,” says Goldstein. “It’s shown when you use these, the light doesn’t suppress your melatonin, and it prevents a phase-shift and it can improve sleep.” They’re not as nice-looking as some of the other blue-light-filtering glasses out there, but since the best time to use them is right before bed, and not at the office, there’s no reason to be embarrassed.
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