Big Tech reacts to blue light red flags
Blue blockers are coming back in style—but not in the retro-80s way you might be thinking.
"Reducing blue light output from these devices can be beneficial to ocular health."
Global technology firms Amazon and Apple aren't reviving the extra-large, tear-drop frames with their latest market innovations, but they are keying on the one aspect that made these sunglasses so iconic: Those amber-tinted lenses. And it's because they're thinking about consumers' eyes.
Recently, Apple previewed its new iOS 9.3 operating system with a feature that "may even help you get a good night's sleep." Called "Night Shift," this proposed feature automatically alters the screen display color to an orange tint when the device's clock reads sundown and returns it to normal tint during daylight hours. Apple's tech comes weeks after Amazon released its own blue-blocking update, "Blue Shade," that also allows users to tint their Fire e-reader screens amber while reading in low-light conditions.
So why the warm hues? It's all about filtering out high-energy, short-wavelength blue light—the light emitted from smartphones, tablets, LED monitors and TVs—to help the body sleep.
Effects of blue light on sleep patterns
Evidence continues to suggest that prolonged bedtime exposure to blue light queues biological responses that delay the normal circadian rhythms, leading to less restful sleep.
Gregory Good, O.D., Ph.D., AOA Commission on Ophthalmic Standards member, writes in the AOA's "Light and Eye Damage" fact sheet that bright light's stimulation of photosensitive retinal ganglion cells can suppress melatonin levels, the hormone involved in synchronization of the circadian rhythm, and trigger alertness, vigilance and general wakefulness. A 2014 study in the journal Photochemistry and Photobiology even clocked this effect, noting that a week of increased bright light exposure at bedtime resulted in about 14 minutes less sleep.
"While the intensity is much lower than from solar radiation, extended blue light exposure from hand-held devices can have substantial negative effects on sleep cycles and may increase overall risk of retinal damage," Dr. Good says.
According to the 2015 American Eye-Q® survey, 62 percent of respondents spend five-plus hours on a digital device each day, while 14 percent reported spending at least 10 hours. Factor in TV usage and newer residential light sources (CFLs and LEDs) with substantially greater blue light production than traditional incandescent sources, and blue light exposure is at an all-time high.
So were retro blue blockers more forward-looking than credited? Big tech, it seems, is willing to give it a try.
"Reducing blue light output from these devices can be beneficial to ocular health while having little to no effect on visible performance," Dr. Good says. "I applaud Amazon and Apple for their efforts."
Stay up to date: Find blue light resources
Take advantage of a COPE-approved continuing education course on AOA's Eyelearn (member login required), titled High Energy Visible (HEV) Light: The Danger and Opportunities for Protection, supported by an education grant from Luxottica. This hour-long, two-part course offers a breakdown of HEV, including:
- Introduction to HEV light, why it presents a danger to the macula and how it affects age-related macular degeneration
- Concerns regarding ultraviolet light and HEV from natural and artificial lights
- Avoidance techniques and supplementation recommendations that can be used to protect the eye from HEV damage
Click here to read more about blue light in the March 2014 edition of AOA Focus (member login required).