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2020 Vision: A Case of the Blues

By Optometrist, Dr. Peter Popovich – featured in the Sauk Valley Sun

Digital device usage continues to skyrocket amongst children and adults. A Kaiser Family study found that children average 7.5+ hours per day on electronic media and adults average 8.5+ hours per day. As a result, eye and vision disorders have increased significantly with the rise of digital device usage. One concern raised with these devices is exposure to blue light.

Blue light is a high energy form of visible light. It is produced naturally by the sun as well as artificially by digital screens and LED/fluorescent lights. Blue light has some beneficial qualities such as increased alertness, memory, and cognitive function. While the direct impact of artificial blue light on the eye remains unclear at this time, exposure to blue light from digital screens has been linked to several chronic health conditions.

Recent studies have shown that blue light interferes with circadian rhythms (or sleep cycles) by delaying the release of a hormone called melatonin. A delay in melatonin release prevents the body from entering its normal sleep cycle, which then limits the effectiveness and duration of sleep. As a result, people exposed to blue light before bedtime take longer to fall asleep, have a less restful sleep and wake up drowsier. The disruption of melatonin production has serious implications for the overall health of an individual and has been connected to the development of insomnia, diabetes, and cancer.

Recommendations for healthy digital device usage before sleep include avoidance of bright screens two hours before bedtime, use of dim red night lights, and the use of blue light filters. Blue light also appears to contribute to eyestrain. Many patients find blue light filtering eyeglasses and screen covers reduce eye fatigue while working on digital devices for long hours. Another way to combat eye fatigue is by practicing the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus 20 feet away. Looking into the year 2020, each of us should consider making healthy lifestyle adjustments as technology continues to saturate our lives.