The impacts of blue light exposure from screens on children and what to do about it! Even our little superheroes need help with blue light!
Over the past two years with the global pandemic forcing children to stay indoors, screen time has become an increased concern for parents worldwide.
Millions of children switching to remote learning in 2021, definitely contributed to the 15% increase in time spent on social media apps by children between the ages of four and fifteen.
In the UK it is estimated that children are spending up to 6.5 hours behind a screen daily. According to tech advisor the age breakdown is as follows:
- 3-4 years = average 3 hours screen time daily
- 5-7 years = average 4 hours screen time daily
- 8-11 years = average 4,5 hours screen time daily
- Teenagers = average 6,5 hours screen time daily
"We didn’t evolve to be exposed to Blue light as much as we are" ~ Forbes
As parents, we grew up spending less time behind screens compared to the current digital generation - who are immersed in technology and use screens for communication, entertainment and even education.
This increase in screen time has directly influenced the amount of blue light your children's eyes are exposed to on a daily basis. We know we are getting more exposure to blue light, but what is blue light and what does more exposure mean for our children?
What is blue light?
Blue light is visible light with more energy and shorter wavelengths than light at the other end of the colour spectrum. It is known as blue light because it is on the violet-blue band of the colour spectrum. To put it simply, artificial blue light comes from:
- Computers, phones and tablets.
- Fluorescent and LED lights
- TV screens
So blue light is all around us. The natural source of blue light comes from the sun - and while exposure to blue light from the sun in the day time is a natural occurrence - our bodies were not designed to be exposed to so much blue light all throughout the day and night.
Blue light’s effect on our eyes
Right now, the scientific evidence of the long-term effects of blue light over exposure are unclear, as we have not had enough time to see long-term effects manifest for generations who were raised surrounded by technology.
However, many researchers are concerned that the increase in blue light exposure from screens and digital devices may lead to an increased risk of age related eye diseases like macular degeneration. (Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss among older Americans and is a disease where central vision becomes blurry over time.)
Moreover, there is evidence that shows that when performing tasks involving looking at something close-up (eg. phones, a laptop or tablet), blue light increases eye strain if you are exposed for long periods of time.
We now know that digital eye strain comes from looking at screens for extended periods of time but are the effects from over exposure to blue light different between adults and children?
The difference between Children vs Adult blue light over-exposure.
Children’s eyes are extremely sensitive to blue light because until the age of 15 their eyes are still developing.
This is because the flexible lens behind the iris is more transparent in children. Their pupils are also larger leaving their eyes unprotected from blue light waves.
Blue light and screen times impact on your child's sleep quality
As the natural blue light from the sun fades towards the evening, the brain produces the hormone melatonin, which prepares humans to fall asleep and sleep through the night.
However, due to the high levels of exposure to artificial blue light from screens, the production of melatonin is suppressed and this signals to the brain to stay awake. So by your child being exposed to the blue light all day and leading into the evening, their brain actually has no idea what time it is!
According to Harvard health publishing “Exposure to blue light at night, emitted by electronics and energy-efficient lightbulbs, can affect your sleep.”
Moreover, A recent study shows that children and adults that were exposed to the same amounts of blue light had vast differences in the amount of melatonin produced. In fact, the children’s melatonin production was suppressed twice as much as the adults.
Furthermore, children about to hit puberty experience higher levels of melatonin suppression when compared to older children. This means that protecting younger children’s eyes from blue light is imperative to keep their sleep cycles regulated and ensure they are getting sufficient rest.
Blue light and screen time’s impact on your child's comfort and eye health
Often children who spend a lot of time outdoors will experience more blue light naturally from the sun than they do indoors. However, children who spend lots of time in front of screens, are at a higher risk of developing digital eye strain.
According to Business Insider "Our eyes aren't naturally built for prolonged direct exposure to blue light. This is thought to be a factor contributing to eye strain, headaches, and fatigue."
Signs of digital eye strain are:
- Dry eyes
- Bad posture
- Changes in vision
- Eye tiredness
- Irregular sleep patterns
Blue light and screen time’s impact on your child’s performance
In addition to potential increased risk to long-term degenerative diseases, disrupted sleep cycles and discomfort from eye strain, blue light over-exposure may also be impacting your child’s performance at school.
Blue light over-exposure may be having an impact on children’s school performance from a knock on effect of poor sleep quality. Several studies have associated a relationship between sleep quality and quantity with learning ability and academic performance.
High levels of artificial blue light exposure in the evenings could be disrupting your children’s natural sleep rhythms and stimulating the brain right before bed.
Poor sleep, which could be a result of over-exposure to blue light, could also be impacting mood and concentration levels. Just think about how children’s mood, behaviour, and emotional state is impacted when they are exhausted.
How can you prevent your child from developing negative side effects from blue light over-exposure?
There are a variety of solutions but our top 7 tips to protect your children's eyes include:
- Use kids blue light glasses when using digital devices. Blue light glasses have special lenses designed to block out the blue light emitted from screens and protect your children's eyes from over-exposure.
- Encourage your child to play outdoors. About two hours of outdoor play per day is recommended.
- Turn off digital devices an hour before bed to allow for melatonin production (the sleep hormone) and to allow natural sleep-cycles to be regulated.
- Use night settings on your devices. This helps reduce the amount of blue light your children are exposed to before bed and should help them sleep better.
- Go for a professional eye examination every 2 years for a routine checkup.
- Follow the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes encourage your child to take their eyes off the screen and look at something that is 20 feet or more away for at least 20 seconds.
- Make use of apps that limit screen time for your child. An app called ScreenLimit allows parents to control and manage their child's screen time remotely. The app also has a daily limit for each child that ensures they only have the amount of screen time they have been allocated.
What are blue light glasses and how do they work?
Blue light glasses have special lenses that block and filter out blue light. These lenses protect your and your children’s eyes from the glare from screens as well as reduce the damage blue light causes to your eyes.
In short, they protect your eyes from digital eye strain and allow your natural sleep cycle to be restored.
Are blue light glasses necessary for children?
If your child is spending time watching TV, doing school work on a laptop or tablet or playing games online, then blue light glasses have become essential to combating digital eye strain. Even our little superheroes need help when it comes to blue light!
Blue light glasses can help improve your child’s mood, memory, concentration as well as ensure they have a better night’s sleep.
Positive impact from blue light screen glasses:
✓ Preventative for long term eye damage
✓ Increased energy for the classroom and after school activities
✓ A better nights sleep after screen time in the evening
✓ Use screen glasses to combat discomforts like headaches and dry, tired eyes
✓ Keep your children’s eyes happy and healthy
Keep your children’s eyes safe with kids blue-light glasses.
- https://www.aop.org.uk/advice-and-support/for-patients/childrens-eye-health/screen-time-for-kids-facts-for parents#:~:text=Using%20screens%20close%20to%20bedtime,which%20makes%20us%20feel%20sleepy.
- Turner & Mainster. (2008). Circadian photoreception: ageing and the eye's important role in systemic health. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2582340/
- Higuchi et al. (2014). Influence of light at night on melatonin suppression in children. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24840814
- Crowley et al. (2015). Increased sensitivity of the circadian system to light in early/mid-puberty. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26301944/
- Curcio et al. (2006). Sleep loss, learning capacity and academic performance. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16564189/