Full fact check: is all this screen time good for your health?

If you’ve been staying home and following social distancing guidelines, you’ve probably been spending noticeably more time watching TV, scrolling through social updates on your phone, and catching up on the latest news via your computer. 

But, is all this screen time good for your health? 

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, specialists warned that hours spent in front of the glow of a screen can lead to headaches, eye strain, fatigue and more. 

The American Academy of Ophthalmology credits symptoms like fatigue and discomfort, and mental health struggles to most likely digital eye strain, because we actually blink less when we stare at screens. 

But does the kind of light screens emit have anything to do with lack of sleep and damage to our eyes overtime? Blue light has largely been referred to as the biggest culprit. 

Blue light actually helps us stay awake during the day, boosting attention, reaction time, and mood. However, exposure at night can be disruptive- because those benefits aren’t so necessary before we head off to sleep.

The University of Chicago credits screen time as one of the factors that can keep you up during this time of extreme social isolation and stress, because blue light “tells the brain to stop producing the sleep hormone melatonin, which can lead to trouble falling asleep.” 

Studies have also echoed this concern. A 2019 report by the French Agency for Food, Environment, and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) maintained that that long-term blue light is a contributing factor of retinal degeneration, and research published that same year in the International Journal of Ophthalmology reiterated this concern. 

While the issue continues to be debated among scientists and medical specialists, consumers are still interested in warding off the effects. And quarantine measures have only spiked this interest. Google searches for “blue light glasses” spiked a week or two after lockdown measures were enacted in Europe and North America. 

Interest in “Blue Light glasses” in Google Search queries rose as Europe and North America enacted COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

Social Media has also lit up with interest in blue light blocking glasses, as the glasses have been featured in many Tik Toks. But are they a necessary quarantine accessory? 

Not likely. The majority of blue light exposure we get is actually from the sun, so sunglasses and sunscreen are adequate protection when spending time socially distancing outside.  

The real concern however, may be long-term digital exposure overtime in many children. Many young children today have spent their whole lives under the glow of a screen, and this has only been amplified by the virus. Children’s screen time has increased 500%, according to a survey of 3,000 parents conducted by the advocacy group ParentsTogether.

How their brains and bodies will adapt to this continued exposure has yet to be seen, and will have to be studied well into the future before any conclusions are drawn. 

Until then, medical professionals recommend the 20/20/20 rule, which outlines a regimen of routine breaks from the screen. Throughout your day, remember to look at an object 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds, every 20 minutes.

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