Is Your Phone Causing You to Age Faster?

Elly Dzhungurova dives into the science of bluelight behind the screen and discovers the impact to our health may not be so bright.

Elly Dzhungurova dives into the science of bluelight behind the screen and discovers the impact to our health may not be so bright.

Phones. They have become something that one can’t function without. Scrolling through social media for hours on end has become somewhat of a shared cultural addiction. With the advent of technological advancement nearing what some call a technical inflection point, it’s no wonder that so much of our time is spent zoning out behind the screen. Studies that have been done in the past argue that around sixty percent of people spend on average more than six hours a day in front of a digital device.

Most people may know that excessive amounts of screen time can have a negative impact on our health. The fact is we live in a world where everyone is increasingly busy, connected and hard wired into their hand held computers. The thought of blue light exposure from cell phones doesn’t seem to be part of the cultural milieu. But it might be time to think about how all that blue light exposure impacts your health.

Blue light is one of the colours that can be seen by the human eye in the visible light spectrum. Sources of blue light can be divided into two groups, natural and artificial. The natural blue light comes from the sun as it travels through the atmosphere. Whereas artificial light comes from any electronic device that we have. This includes laptops, smartphones, televisions and even led lights and energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs. Spending too much time on these devices is increasing our exposure to the blue light, which in turn studies have shown that it can impact our survival and cause us to age faster. So the effects of screen time do not start with your eyes and end in an expanding waistline, they end with a decrease in life expectancy.

Recently there are many studies being done relating to the topic if the smartphones and the aging process. Oregon State University (OSU) comments that the damage caused by this type of light is related to the brain cells and the retina of the eye. A study published in October 2019, issue of Aging and Mechanisms of Disease, a researcher Jaga Giebultowicz studied the effect of exposure of 12 hours of led light on flies, which is equivalent to blue light wave on smartphones. Fruit flies in particular are great experimental model because of their developmental and cellular mechanisms which humans and flies have in common.

The experiment involved dividing flies into two groups, those exposed to the light versus those who were kept in darkness. The surprising discovery was that the flies who were unprotected from the blue light waves could not even climb the wall of the area of their enclosure to continue the experiment after a period of time. The problem here is the artificial light. Natural light is crucial for the body’s circadian rhythm. Overall the study found that the blue light caused accelerated aging.

If blue light is effecting a fly then what effect does it have on us humans? A professor of integrative biology Giebultowicz has said “But there is evidence suggesting that increased exposure to artificial light is a risk factor for sleep and circadian disorders,". She also added that "with the prevalent use of LED lighting and device displays, humans are subjected to increasing amounts of light in the blue spectrum since commonly used LEDs emit a high fraction of blue light. But this technology, LED lighting, even in most developed countries, has not been used long enough to know its effects across the human lifespan.” Thus, we are all guinea pigs.

This research and subject matter is still new and its needs further investigation on how to improve blue light so that the exposure to blue light does not harm humans. Scientists argue that this research should continue and the greater public be kept informed about future advancements. One of the research assistants of the Giebultowicz’s lab argued that “As science looks for ways to help people be healthier as they live longer, designing a healthier spectrum of light might be a possibility, not just in terms of sleeping better but in terms of overall health.”

While scientists and researchers are working on this serious matter as around forty three percent of adults work in a job that requires prolonged use of a computer or tablet, there are things that we can do to help ourselves in limiting the exposure of blue light to our eyes. Some of the safety measures that we can take are to wear safety glasses, if you start to feel fatigue, eye strain or headaches take a break and go for a walk outside. Some devices have the option to turn off the blue light and limit our use to one hour at a time of using led screen devices. If you have to work during the night using electronic devices, install an app that can filter the green/blue wavelength and during the day we have to make sure to expose ourselves to as much natural light as possible.

It should be kept in mind that this is only the beginning of the research and the actual impact on human health is yet to be investigated. Electrical engineers and computer scientists are working hard to figure out a way how to make a function in a smartphone to limit the exposure of blue light. Trevor Nash, a 2019 OSU Honors College graduate who has assisted in blue light exposure studies said “In the future, there may be phones that auto-adjust their display based on the length of usage the phone perceives”. As long as awareness builds in society and scientists continue investigating a way to help the issue, the future for human health is bright.