If there's one thing in the world we'll never escape, it's screens. Television screens, computer screens, phone screens. We've found ourselves surrounded — especially since we've been spending a lot more time indoors, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Many of us need screens for work, and beyond that, entertainment, communication, and pretty much anything else you can think of. And while all this tech can offer us a glimpse into a world outside of our own, it can also can cause quite a bit of strain on our eyes.
Because most of us spend an insurmountable amount of time glued to screens all day — whether your job requires you to, or you find yourself falling into a TikTok rabbit hole every night — and science has started to catch onto the fact that all that staring isn't the best for our eye health, we're often trying to find ways to protect our eyes against the glare. Enter: blue light glasses.
Let's start with the basics: Digital screens emit a type of ray that's been nicknamed "blue light." "It has a short wavelength, which means it produces higher amounts of energy than other light," Jennifer Wademan, OD, a VSP-network eye doctor currently practicing at Bidwell Optometry in Folsom, CA, tells Refinery29. "As blue light enters the eye, the light scatters and is perceived as glare that your eyes have to work overtime to process."
Prolonged exposure can cause eye strain, fatigue, and headaches, symptoms of what's called computer vision syndrome or digital eye strain, according to William T. Reynolds, OD, president of the American Optometric Association.
Getting a ton of it — especially at night — can also mess up our circadian rhythm. According to a study completed at the University of Haifa and published in the Chronobiology International, exposure to blue light with wave lengths of 450-500 nanometers (which most devices emit) can significantly suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone secreted at night that helps regulate our body cycles and sleep.
Blue light-blocking glasses use coated lenses that claim to block blue light, stopping the harsh side effects we experience when looking at screens for too long (although most of them are used to filter blue light, not entirely block). They often have a slightly yellow or orange tint to them, which helps reflect the blue light away from your eyes, but more brands are creating fully transparent lenses so you don't have to feel like you're an extra in Star Trek. Just check out the blue light glasses brand Felix Gray. They offer three types of lenses: transparent ones that are made to filter out digital blue light, yellowish lenses to filter out blue light before sleep, and darker lenses to filter out blue light from the sun.
But blue light lenses themselves are fairly new, and as such the research backing them up isn't all that comprehensive. One study published in Ophthalmic & Physiological Optics found "a lack of high quality evidence to support using [Blue-blocking] spectacle lenses for the general population to improve visual performance or sleep quality, alleviate eye fatigue or conserve macular health."
These lenses do appear to have some perks when used specifically at night, though. According to a study published in Chronobiology International, the use of blue-light blocking glasses in the evening resulted in a significant improvement in sleep quality. Another study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found similar results, stating that these types of glasses could "potentially impede the negative effects modern lighting imposes on circadian physiology in the evening."
"While there is still a lot of research being done about the effects of blue light, wearing glasses with blue light absorbing lenses certainly doesn’t hurt," Dr. Wademan points out.
There are other ways to prevent excessive blue light exposure that aren't a pair of new glasses, though. Both Dr. Wademan and Dr. Reynolds back the the "20-20-20" rule: Every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. It may sound strange, but a study published by the Nepalese Journal of Ophthalmology found that looking at far objects in-between screen time was significantly lessened computer vision syndrome symptoms.
It's also smart to maintain a comfortable distance from your devices (around 20-40 inches away and five inches below eye level), dim the brightness as low as you can while still being able to read your device without squinting, and in the evening, to utilize your device's night mode.
So, why not — go ahead and try a pair of these glasses out to see if they help with any headaches, eye strain, or sleep patterns. You could also, of course, take some time away from your screens. But right now, they're the only way many of us have to stay connected. If blue light glasses can possibly let us hold two hour Zoom calls more comfortably — and look chic while doing it — then there's no harm in grabbing a pair for yourself.