How to Combat the Negative Effects of Excess Screen Time

By Stevie Lyn Smith, MS, RDN, CSSD, CDN, September 10, 2021

blue light computer night negative effectsWork, school, and so much of daily life has gone digital as the COVID-19 pandemic forces us to remain home. And though maintaining connectedness with work and play is essential, it’s well-known that all this screen time can have a negative impact on sleep and, ultimately, your wellbeing. Luckily, there are some simple changes we can make to our bedtime routine and desk setup to combat and prevent these negative effects.


First, the connection between sleep and health

A good night's sleep can be challenging for some people to get regularly. According to the CDC, one third of adults in the US get less sleep than the recommended minimum amount of 7 hours per night.[1] Know someone who boasts about about their ability to function on minimal sleep? Limited shuteye can be intentional and still have negative health effects—Americans who reported getting fewer than 7 hours of sleep per night were more likely to have health risk factors and chronic health conditions including diabetes, depression, and coronary heart disease, among others.[1] And we also know that adequate sleep plays an important role in supporting your immune health.

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And screen time (especially at night) can prevent quality sleep due to blue light

For years now, there has been a reported decline in sleep quality and duration as a result of screen time. How is screen time related to sleep? There is evidence that electronic devices like eReaders and cell phones emit short-wavelength enriched light—also known as blue light.[2] And this blue light mimics the colors of morning sunshine, which stimulates the brain and promotes wakefulness. So if the brain is bombarded with blue light at or right before bedtime, it can throw a wrench into our natural sleep processes like circadian rhythm.[3,4] It can even suppress the production of melatonin—a hormone that peaks in the nighttime hours to promote sleep—and interfere with your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, and enter restorative REM and slow wave sleep.[4] It's for these reasons that scrolling through social media or streaming your favorite show before bed may contribute to and exacerbate sleep problems. 


You can moderate nighttime blue light exposure with filters—and by putting the devices down

So, how can you moderate blue light exposure in the evening? An important first step is to trigger your devices to switch to night mode, which will automatically filter blue light (making screens look yellow) at a predetermined time. Set night mode to switch on two hours before bedtime, and then aim to put down the devices altogether an hour before your head hits the pillow.[5] For more tips for a more restful night’s sleep, check out this blog.

Another option is to use blue light-blocking glasses in the evening. A recent study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that people who put them on two hours before bedtime reported significantly lower delayed wake times (meaning they hit the snooze button less) and better total sleep time, sleep quality, and soundness of sleep than those who didn't.[4] 


Daytime screen use can also lead to painful eye strain

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) doesn't believe blue light from computers causes irreversible damage like macular degeneration.[6] But have you noticed your eyes feeling achy, dry, or tired? Experienced blurry vision? According to the AAO, these are all signs of digital related eye strain.[7] Here are some actions the AAO recommends to help provide some relief:

ways to reduce eye strain

    • Blink often, as this will naturally help prevent dry eyes.
    • Use artificial tears or a humidifier if your work environment is warm and dry.
    • Take regular breaks! The "20-20-20 rule" is the practice of looking at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. Regularly switching up your optic focus can help to prevent eye strain.
    • Use computer eyeglasses. They can help to prevent a glare on the screen and improve image focus and contrast, all of which help to reduce eyestrain. These are different from blue light-blocking glasses, but some pairs contain all of these features. Just (online) shop wisely.
    • Adjust your screen brightness and contrast to match the light around you. A screen that's brighter than your surrounding light can increase the strain on your eyes.
    • Another way to reduce screen glare is to use a matte filter—they typically stick to the computer screen itself.
    • Distance matters! Aim to sit about 25 inches from your computer screen and adjust the position of your screen so your gaze is downwards.
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Stevie Lyn Smith, MS, RDN, CDN 
  • Stevie Lyn is a Content Strategist and Team Nutritionist at InsideTracker. As a Registered Dietitian and Ironman triathlete, she enjoys combining her passions to help educate others on how to fuel for overall health and performance. When she’s not swimming, biking, or running with her dog, you’ll find her in the kitchen working on a new recipe to improve her biomarkers.


[1] CDC - Data and Statistics - Sleep and Sleep Disorders. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published May 2, 2017. Accessed April 8, 2020.
[2] Chang AM, Aeschbach D, Duffy JF, Czeisler CA. Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015;112(4):1232–1237. doi:10.1073/pnas.1418490112
[3] Tosini G, Ferguson I, Tsubota K. Effects of blue light on the circadian system and eye physiology. Mol Vis. 2016;22:61–72. Published 2016 Jan 24.
[4] Shechter A, Kim EW, St-Onge MP, Westwood AJ. Blocking nocturnal blue light for insomnia: A randomized controlled trial. J Psychiatr Res. 2018;96:196–202. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2017.10.015
[5] Should You Use Night Mode to Reduce Blue Light? American Academy of Ophthalmology. Published September 7, 2019. Accessed April 10, 2020.
[6] Are Computer Glasses Worth It? American Academy of Ophthalmology. Published October 18, 2018. Accessed April 12, 2020.
[7] Boyd K. Computers, Digital Devices and Eye Strain. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Published March 4, 2020. Accessed April 12, 2020.

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