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What is Blue Light—And How Bad is it, Really?
Credit: Jamie Grill/Getty Images

We didn't think it was possible to become more reliant on technology, but 2020 swiftly proved us wrong. As work, school, socialization, and even doctor's appointments all happen virtually, that means screen time — and exposure to blue light — is at an all-time high. Whether or not you know how blue light works, you probably know that it has a bit of a bad reputation, and can be the culprit behind .disrupted sleep, eye strain, and headaches.

Wondering how you can keep your exposure in check during coronavirus (and beyond)? Read on for everything you need to know about blue light (including what it actually is), plus the best blue light blocking glasses to try.

VIDEO: The Costly Effects of Sleep Deprivation

What Is Blue Light — and Why Do Our Bodies Need It?

There’s a good chance you’ve heard of blue light in the context of screen time and manmade sources, including your laptop, phone screens, and LED lights (found in LED light bulbs or even an at-home acne mask).

But this little tidbit might surprise you: Blue light is naturally occurring and the main source of blue light in your day-to-day life is sunlight, says Nate Favini, M.D., the medical lead at Forward, a preventive primary care service. “Blue light is part of the normal spectrum of visible light,” he explains.

More specifically, blue light is a short wavelength, high-frequency light that is known as high energy visible (HEV) light, says Mohan Dutt, M.D., a sleep specialist at Michigan Medicine’s Sleep Disorders Centers and a host of the White Noise Podcast.

Ready for this plot twist? Blue light is actually good for your health, Dr. Favini reports. “Blue light exposure in the daytime boosts your mood and attention,” he says. “It’s necessary for your body’s circadian rhythm, and reductions in blue light during the winter may contribute to seasonal affective disorder.”

It’s true: One of the most common treatments for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — or “the winter blues” — is light therapy, which simulates sunlight and increases serotonin in the brain. Light therapy lamps (many of which rely on blue light) emit light that is about 20 times greater than ordinary indoor lighting, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH).

And blue light might even have some other surprising health benefits. One 2018 study found that participants exposed to a blue light lamp saw a significant improvement in blood pressure and overall circulation.

But Too Much Blue Light Exposure Can Have Negative Health Impacts

That all sounds like a good reason to give blue light the green light, right? (See what we did there?) The problem, however, is not so much blue light on its own, but "being exposed to large amounts of blue light at times when your body isn’t expecting it," Dr. Favini says.

Once the sun goes down, your body is being cued to begin producing melatonin. The process typically starts two hours prior to bedtime, and it’s when your melatonin levels peak that you are most likely to fall asleep, Dr. Dutt says. But when you add light into the mix, it causes a disruption in your natural circadian cycle, meaning you might not be able to fall asleep until "hours after the source of light has been shut off,” he explains.

Basically, it's like trying to fall asleep with the sun shining through your blinds, but instead of the sun, it's your phone's screen as you scroll through Instagram.

By the way, it’s not just your sleep that blue light impacts, according to Dr. Favini. Unsurprisingly, exposure to blue light-emitting screens can also cause eye strain, which can lead to headaches, and even increase the risk of macular degeneration, he explains. Plus, those who are sensitive to light and prone to migraines may find that blue light only exacerbates the problem.

Luckily, all hope isn't lost. A 2018 study published in PLOS One showed that reducing blue light exposure significantly decreased retinal damage that has been linked to high-intensity exposure to blue light. In addition to blue light reduction, the study’s authors recommended the use of blue light filters (more on that next) to help protect eye health

How Can I Cut Back on Blue Light?

For starters, both doctors agree that everyone should abide by the no blue light for two hours before bed rule. You can start small by avoiding technology for one hour prior to bed, and work your way to the two-hour goal, Dr. Favini says.

Sound easier said than done? You aren’t alone. Luckily, you can try blue-light blocking glasses or even a blue light blocking screen protector for your computer or phone. You can also try enabling nighttime mode on your phone (called Night Shift on the iPhone), a setting that activates a warmer, yellowish light, therefore eliminating blue light during hours when your body should be in rest mode. There are also apps that allow you to do this with other phones, including Bluelight Filter for Eye Care and Twilight: Blue light filter.

No matter the method you choose, Dr. Favini recommends implementing these tools at least two to three hours before bed, especially if you’re still hard at work on your laptop or cozied up on the couch with your favorite show. You can also take an all-day approach to filtering out blue light, especially if you find yourself frequently using a laptop, phone, or another device for a large portion of the day. (Which is just about everyone right now). Plus, many blue light glasses,employ clear lenses that can easily pass as everyday glasses.

What Are the Best Blue-Light-Blocking Glasses?

Not sure where to start? This list includes the best blue light blocking glasses that are stylish and help to reduce digital eye strain.

Pixel Eyewear Meru Computer Glasses

These are the blue-light-blocking frames I use at home. Pixel's design has helped reduce the feeling that my eyes are bleeding by the end of the day (as I like to very dramatically tell my husband). Seriously though, I've noticed that even after a late-night work sesh, I have fewer headaches and can more easily hit the pillow and fall asleep.

BLU BLCK's Blue-Light Blocking Glasses Amber Tinted Lens

These glasses feature the classic amber-hued lenses that help turn blue light into a warm, soothing glow. One reviewer said it helped ease symptoms related to insomnia, adding: "I am super surprised how much this helps my mind relax before bed, even when watching TV."

SEA Olivia Oversized Blue Light Glasses

Fancy a larger, stylish pair of glasses, but also want to kick blue light to the curb? Check out this style by Free People, which features a thin metallic framed square design.

Warby Parker Jane Glasses

Want blue light blockers and prescription lenses? You'll want to check out Warby Parker, which offers blue light-filtering frames that can also accommodate your prescription, whether it be for readers or single-vision lenses.

TIJN Blue Light-Blocking Glasses

TIJN's blue light-blocking glasses come in a number of colors and patterns, including this leopard style. Clear lenses mean you can wear them all day to block out blue light from your computer. "I have not gotten a single headache since starting to wear these," one reviewer wrote. "They also look great and I have gotten a bunch of compliments."

Felix Gray "Roebling" Glasses

These bubblegum pink round glasses hard are super cute, but they also have a fun back story that might help you channel badass energy at work. Felix Gray named the frames the Roebling after Emily Roebling, who was the first female field engineer.

MVMT Ingram Crystal Everscroll Glasses

These cellulose acetate frames by MVMT are available in three different colors — peach, clear, and green. One reviewer said the glasses have been a game-changer for her, helping to relieve migraines and eye redness.

Quay "Still Standing" Aviator Blue Light Glasses

If aviator sunglasses are your go-to, then it might be the style to consider for your blue light frames. Quay's "Still Standing" glasses feature a simple, wire-rimmed frame with large lenses that will block blue light and look super stylish.

DIFF Eyewear "Jade" Glasses

These blue light glasses also do some good: For every pair of DIFF glasses purchased, the company donates a pair of frames to someone in need. We suggest this chic cat-eye shaped pair that blocks 30 percent of blue light generated by computers, televisions, smartphone screens, and LED lights.

Muse x Hilary Duff Grace Glasses by GlassesUSA

If you are here for the Lizzie McGuire reboot, then why not try out a bit of its lead character's personal style? Actress Hilary Duff paired up with GlassesUSA to create this stylish pair of bold, square-framed glasses, which can be fitted with or without a prescription lens.