The dark side of blue light

For those constantly tweeting, double-tapping or texting; discounting the ill-effects of extended smartphone usage is almost second nature.

What if you were to find out, however, that cell damage and sleep deprivation are very real threats?

According to recent research, when the blue light found in smartphones interacts with retinal – a form of vitamin A found in the human eye – cell death is one of many side effects that can be expected.

According to University of Toledo Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry Assistant Professor Dr. Ajith Karunarathne, while the human eye is well-equipped to guard against exposure to UV rays, we’re somewhat helpless when it comes to filtering the blue light from smartphones.

So, why is blue light essential to smartphones and other display devices?

In this regard, understanding the science behind RGB balance on screens is quite useful.

RGB stands for Red, Green, and Blue, and it is this colour model that is used in almost every type of display technology, ranging from smartphones to tabs. When added together at different intensities, these rays of lights produce a countless number of colours on the screens we often find ourselves glued to.

Without blue light, smartphone displays are decidedly less pleasant to look at, displaying yellowish hues that on the whole ruin the display experience companies outdo themselves to improve.

While blue light most certainly does not cause blindness, as Dr. Karunarathne was careful to reiterate, it does cause some of the harmful effects millennials and Gen Zs have been warned of time and time again.

What happens here is that when blue light interacts with retinal, the molecules that photoreceptors in the eye use to sense light, cell signals are disturbed, causing cell death. While this may sound somewhat ominous, the former alumnus of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura was quick to mention that there’s still not enough evidence to conclusively signal the end of smartphone lighting technology.

Given that these devices have only been used extensively for the past decade or so, Dr. Karunarathne is of the opinion that we haven’t used these devices long enough to make an unequivocal condemnation of its ill-effects.

Despite these assurances, however, he was quick to point out that steps must be taken to prevent the potential damage caused by blue light.

In this regard, refraining from using devices in pitch darkness, as we are accustomed to when in bed, can go a long way in preventing cell death.

Dr. Karunarathne also affirmed that smartphone usage late at night can, in fact, cause sleep deprivation. While research shows that light of any kind can suppress melatonin secretion – affecting our circadian rhythm – blue light does so more powerfully at night. Known informally as the internal clock, circadian rhythm, in essence, is our sleep/wake cycle.

Through specific processes, blue light disrupts this cycle, causing many sleepless nights and disgruntled mornings.

Given the escapable reality we are presented with, certain courses of action come highly recommended to circumvent the drawback of blue light exposure.

This primarily involves not holding a device too close to your face in a darkened room. Given that the pupil in the human eye expands in darkened atmospheres, allowing more light to enter the eye, blue light exposure is off-the-charts in these situations. Further, downloading apps that seamlessly reduce the content of blue light on screens towards the evening is another effective option.

With plans to study this phenomenon more extensively in the near future, Dr. Karunarathne firmly stated that while individuals don’t need to be overly concerned about blue light exposure, taking certain precautionary measures wouldn’t hurt.

With technology advancing more rapidly than it has in recorded history, greater diligence is now required – not just against privacy hacks and leaked iCloud photos. With blue light exposure only set to increase exponentially in the future, remaining cautious about how we use our smartphones is crucial.

By Archana Heenpella

Photos Joint Base San Antonio