We all love our screens, don’t we?
Everywhere you go these days you will see people looking at screens, from adults to teens and even toddlers. We want to be connected, we want to stay connected and we love doing things like gaming or shopping via our small screens.
Whether on a laptop, tablet or the ever-present smart phone, most of us love to be on the internet or Facebook as much as possible.
But what price are we paying for spending so much time looking at screens?
Recent studies have shown that use of small screens can have an adverse effect on both brain development, stimulation and sleep patterns.
It is also universally acknowledged as a major component in the exponential rise of short sightedness in our teenage population.
So how can we maintain our online lifestyle without causing long-term damage to ourselves and our children?
Screens and Short Sightedness
Short sightedness occurs when we sacrifice our distance vision in favour of near vision. Studies show that excessive amounts of close vision, especially without breaks, can in many cases cause our focus to spasm, and we let the distance go blurry to maintain our excessive near vision lifestyle.
Latest figures on short sightedness make terrifying reading! In Australia, the incidence of myopia (short sight) in 17 year olds was around 20% 5 years ago, but is now 31%, and this is expected to increase to 56% within the next 5 years.
In Singapore today the incidence in 17 year olds is around 65%, and in South Korea it is over 90%.
This phenomenal rise in short sightedness is being attributed to the use of small screens, especially for gaming, but the damaging effects of screens don’t stop there!
Feeling Blue about Small Screens
A recent report on 60 minutes talked about Internet Addiction Disorder, which is not only a psychological phenomenon but is also manifesting physical changes in the way our brains process information.
Experts are seeing dangerous signs in the development of toddler’s brains, including behavioural changes like meltdowns when we take their screens away, and this condition is affecting decision making, emotions and self-control.
In fact, screen addiction can distort the same brain functions as alcohol or gambling! Given that recent studies suggest 60% of people spend more than 6 hours a day staring at digital devices, this is a problem which affects all of us!
So what is responsible for the changes in brain function that we are seeing in all ages?
While all screens produce a full range of light, it is the blue light (around 380-500nm) which is causing most concern.
It is recognised as having the ability to disrupt sleep and cause sleep disorders, because it delays the release of the sleep hormone melatonin, and disrupts circadian rhythms and may even cause mood swings or depression.
People who routinely use screens before they go to sleep take longer to drop off and sleep less soundly. It is observed that blue light produced by screens may be creating a generation of artificially hyped up kids.
Are we Powerless to Stop This!
Given our love of (and amount of) screen usage this problem is proving to be very hard to deal with, but you can take steps towards protecting yourself and your children from our digital devices.
Is there anything we can do to stop the effects on our sleep and our brain development, or stop the loss of distance vision through short sightedness?
Taking breaks (I recommend 5 minutes off every half hour) is an essential part of controlling the damage, but there is no substitute for having the right protection in front of your eyes when you use screens, relaxing the focus and stopping the harmful blue light.
So, either you make a commitment to never look at screens again (not my favourite step, and good luck trying to make your kids adhere to that rule!), or alternatively you can wear the right type of support lenses, allowing you to safely maintain your current level of screen usage.
A brand new lens material has been produced called “Blue Guardian” which is able to remove almost all of the harmful blue light. We can also prescribe the right support prescription which can reduce eye strain, tiredness, sleep disruption and stop the exponential rise of short sightedness.
So for your children’s sake, don’t ignore the action of screens. A little bit of effort now could see you avoiding long term harm to your children’s eyes, sleep and development.
They’re worth it!