As a child, my vision was irritatingly excellent. Glasses always felt like the accessory that got away and I was desperate to be part of the ‘exclusive’ club who had reason to wear them around school.
So the news that blue light glasses could be a health hack for the lens-curious is music to these frame-free ears. I’m trying out a pair of blue-light glasses, so-called because they claim to block out some of the blue light that’s emitted from your screens.
What is blue light?
If you’re unfamiliar, blue light is part of the colour spectrum that makes up the light we can see – in other words, it’s all around us. Modern devices tend to be backlit with white-light LEDs, which contain a 50/50 split of blue and yellow light.
Given your eyes are probably glued to a phone or laptop for most of the day, exposure is at an all-time high, and it’s been linked - albeit tenuously - with diabetes, heart disease, macular degeneration (which causes reduced or blurred central vision) and more.
Is blue light bad for you?
‘Studies have shown that using screens, which exposes you to blue light, suppresses melatonin, the hormone that makes you feel sleepy,’ says optometrist Roshni Kanabar, clinical and regulatory advisor for the Association of Optometrists.
That’s why a small amount can help you stay alert and awake, but larger quantities can disrupt your body clock, and some claim it can cause eye strain and headaches. A 2017 study in the journal Chronobiology International found that exposure to blue light between 9pm and 11pm can affect sleep quality and duration.
However, not everyone is convinced – including the College of Optometrists (the UK’s governing body for optometrists), who have released a statement clarifying their position: ‘The best scientific evidence currently available does not support the use of blue-blocking spectacle lenses in the general population to improve visual performance, alleviate the symptoms of eye fatigue or visual discomfort, improve sleep quality or conserve macula health.’
Optometrist Natasha Drillingcourt agrees. ‘In my professional opinion, any effect the blue-light spectacles give is purely psychological, from the evidence base that is currently available,’ she tells Women’s Health. ‘Equally, there’s no current evidence of harm to the eye.’
Can blue light help with headaches?
Despite the lack of concrete evidence, blue-light glasses have grown in popularity over the past few years. The concept has been around for a while, but styles have since had an upgrade from fluorescent yellow goggles to slick, stylish specs. I’m trying a £40 pair from Quay – a style appropriately named ‘Hardwire Mini’.
The brand claims the clear blue light filter lenses built into the frames of its already cult sunnies can reduce eye strain, blurry vision and headaches. But again, the research is limited.
According to Drillingcourt, the culprit for these symptoms is most likely your office set-up, not your light source. ‘Even if you feel that you have no problems with your vision, sometimes when working at a close distance like a computer screen, you may experience headaches and eye strain - as the eyes are working harder than they need to,’ she explains.
She notes that an optometrist can offer a simple prescription which should solve the problem, but that 20-20 or otherwise, too much screen time can lead to headaches - probably a good sign to take a break.
‘It's easy to be influenced by an Instagram advert and buy a pair of these glasses with the expectation that these claims are evidence-backed, but this could prolong any existing visual problems,’ says Drillingcourt. ‘In some cases, recurrent headaches could be a symptom of a more serious neurological condition, which can be flagged in an eye test.’
What are blue light glasses like?
The glasses feel like a regular clear lens pair, but there’s an ever so-slight yellow tinge to the world. Mine are set in a trendy clear plastic frame, and my housemates agree they add to my Zoom call chic.
After a few days of wearing the glasses, I don’t notice much of a change in my 5pm blurry eyes (as predicted), but one area where they do have an influence is my sleep – placebo or otherwise.
In normal times, I’m blessed with the abilities of a milk-drunk three-month-old when it comes to nodding off. But these aren’t normal times, and my coping mechanism of choice has involved taking my laptop to bed with me. I suspect my attempts to complete Netflix are the reason it’s taking me longer to drop off.
Do blue light glasses work for sleep?
The evidence is inconclusive (and the College of Optometrists advise optometrists not to sell them for this reason), but after wearing the glasses all day and all evening, I do notice an improvement from that night. After a week, I’m pretty much back to my infantile tendencies, and waking up less in the night to boot.
So whether it’s the placebo effect that has helped me out in this instance – I think they’re going to work and so they do – I can’t be sure. It’s very likely I’m just pleased I finally have a reason to wear some specs, but, regardless, I’ll be sticking with them for now.
The NHS recommends that most people get their eyes tested every two years – even if you feel your vision hasn’t changed. If you have any concerns about the health of your eyes, book in for an eye exam or speak to your GP.
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