Children of today's generations are growing up surrounded by a world illuminated by screens. From TVs and laptops to tablets, smartphones, gaming devices, and e-readers, the array of technological gadgets available to them seems endless. While there are undeniable educational benefits and opportunities that come with being tech-savvy, there is a downside to this constant exposure – the bombardment of artificial, high-energy blue light on their developing eyes and brains.
Blue light is a natural component of the visible light spectrum and plays a crucial role in regulating our sleep-wake cycle, known as the circadian rhythm. However, the extent of artificial blue light exposure we encounter throughout our lives is unprecedented. From the moment we are born until old age, we are subjected to levels of artificial blue light that our bodies have never experienced before, and the consequences for our health are becoming increasingly evident.
Research has shown that chronic exposure to artificial blue light can have far-reaching effects on our well-being, and children may be particularly vulnerable. While blue light exposure in moderation is necessary for our circadian rhythm, the excessive and prolonged exposure that children face in today's digital age can disrupt their natural sleep patterns and impact their overall health.
Our bodies and eyes are still adapting to this modern technological landscape. The developing eyes of children, in particular, are more sensitive to the harmful effects of blue light. Until the age of 14-15, their eyes are not fully developed, and their crystalline lens, responsible for focusing, is more transparent, leaving their eyes susceptible to absorbing higher levels of potent blue light waves.
Furthermore, children have larger pupils, allowing even more blue light to enter their eyes without adequate protection. Combined with their extensive screen time and the ongoing development of their brains and circadian rhythms, it becomes a concerning recipe for potential health issues.
- Sleep Disruption: The exposure to artificial blue light, especially in the evening and night, can disrupt children's sleep patterns. Blue light suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. When children are exposed to blue light from screens before bedtime, it can interfere with their natural circadian rhythm, making it harder for them to fall asleep and affecting the quality of their sleep. Chronic sleep disruption can lead to fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and impaired academic performance.
- Eye Strain and Visual Discomfort: Extended exposure to screens and blue light can cause eye strain and visual discomfort in children. Staring at screens for prolonged periods can lead to symptoms such as dry eyes, blurred vision, eye fatigue, headaches, and neck and shoulder pain. Children's eyes, as mentioned earlier, are more sensitive to blue light, and the constant bombardment of high-energy blue light waves can put additional strain on their developing eyes.
- Increased Risk of Myopia: Myopia, or nearsightedness, is a condition in which distant objects appear blurry while close objects remain clear. There is evidence to suggest that excessive screen time and exposure to blue light can contribute to the development and progression of myopia in children. Several studies have found a correlation between increased screen time and a higher risk of myopia. The exact mechanism is not fully understood, but it is believed that prolonged near work and reduced outdoor time, coupled with blue light exposure, may contribute to the development of myopia.
- Disruption of Brain Development: The brains of children and adolescents are still developing, and exposure to excessive blue light from screens can potentially impact their brain development. Some studies suggest that blue light exposure may affect cognitive function, attention span, and memory in children. The effects of blue light on the developing brain are an area of ongoing research, and more studies are needed to fully understand the long-term implications.
- Potential Long-Term Health Risks: While the long-term health effects of chronic blue light exposure are still being investigated, there are concerns about its potential impact on children's overall health. Some studies suggest that blue light exposure may increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and even certain types of cancer. However, more research is needed to establish a clear causal relationship between blue light exposure and these health conditions in children.
Natural Blue Light
It's important to note that not all blue light is harmful. Natural sunlight also contains blue light, which is necessary for regulating circadian rhythms and promoting overall health. The main concern arises from the excessive and artificial blue light exposure that children experience from digital devices and indoor lighting sources.
Blue Light Affecting Multiple Areas of Childhood
Sleep Constant exposure to blue light, particularly at night, disrupts the natural body clock and interferes with the production of melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate sleep. Children, in particular, are sensitive to the suppressive effects of blue light on melatonin. Studies have shown that children's melatonin levels are suppressed more than adults when exposed to the same level of light. The use of digital devices before bedtime has been linked to delayed bedtime and reduced total sleep time in children and adolescents. Sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality can have negative consequences on learning capacity, academic performance, and cognitive function. Adequate sleep is crucial for the growth and development that occurs during childhood and adolescence.
Learning Problems Excessive exposure to blue light, especially from screens, can affect children's cognitive abilities and academic performance. Children who spend more than two hours per day using screens have been found to score lower on thinking and language tests. Additionally, preschool-age children with prolonged screen time have a higher risk of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. Blue light exposure can influence brain development and hinder children's learning and cognitive skills.
Mental Health Increased exposure to blue light at night and the use of blue light-emitting screens have coincided with rising rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide among children and adolescents. Blue light exposure disrupts natural rhythms and can impact mood regulation. Poor sleep resulting from excessive blue light exposure is associated with changes in mood, irritability, and lack of enthusiasm. Studies have found a link between smartphone use at bedtime, lack of sleep, and poor mental health in teenagers. The risk for developing depression may be higher in young people, considering their increased sensitivity to blue light.
Eye Health Bright lights and excessive screen time can lead to eye strain, sore and tired eyes, headaches, and blurred vision in children. Blue light can penetrate deep into the eye, reaching the retina and posing a risk to eye health. The scattering of blue light from screens puts strain on the eyes, causing discomfort and vision problems. Frequent screen time, lack of natural light exposure, and the use of fluorescent lighting have been associated with increasing rates of myopia (near-sightedness) in children.
Weight Gain The increasing rates of weight gain and obesity in children may be influenced by artificial blue light exposure from screens and LED lighting. Higher screen time, including TV viewing, has been linked to higher Body Mass Index (BMI) in children. Artificial light exposure from the environment has also been found to contribute to increased BMI in preschool-age children. Additionally, poor sleep and shorter sleep times, resulting from chronic blue light exposure, have been associated with higher BMI in adulthood. The relationship between artificial light exposure, blue light, and weight gain in children is not fully understood, but it may involve factors such as disrupted sleep, fatigue, and reduced physical activity.
Limit Blue Unnatural Blue Lighting
To mitigate the negative effects of blue light, especially in children, it is recommended to limit screen time, particularly before bedtime. Encouraging outdoor activities and exposure to natural light during the day can also help regulate their circadian rhythm. Additionally, using blue light filters or screen protectors on devices, adjusting display settings to reduce blue light emission, and promoting good eye hygiene practices, such as taking regular breaks and maintaining proper viewing distances, can help minimize the potential risks associated with blue light exposure.