Amidst the Corona pandemic, another pandemic is unfolding and it’s impacting our children most of all. It’s referred to as ‘the myopia pandemic’ and it essentially means that 50% of young people in Europe today are short-sighted, according to Caroline Klaver MD in the Netherlands. (That’s half! Up from 10% naturally occurring short-sightedness in young people less than 20 years ago).
Dr Klaver isn’t the only one concerned – research in Asia is showing even higher statistics of 80-90% of university graduates are myopic, and the US is also conscious of the growing problem. Several predictions state that by 2050, half of the world’s population will be near-sighted. Interestingly, regions and cultures that spend greater time indoors have greater prevalence of myopia.
Why is this particularly relevant for our children?
Our eyes do 65% of their growing from birth to 18 years old. Babies don’t even see colour when they are first born and they are actually born long-sighted and yet so many are growing up to have myopia or colour vision limitations.
Children’s eyes and brains are ‘learning’ the world. They need a combination of stimuli to ensure this development is multidimensional and fully rounded (both literally, in terms of the eyeball shape, and metaphorically!). Many factors are being proposed as causes for this: time outside, blue light exposure, viewing things from a changing range of distances, seeing in full spectrum light (rather than things under an impoverished spectrum due to cheap or imbalanced lighting), even sleep.
In fact, sleep brings us back, full circle, to light since it is well known that our over-exposure to excess high frequency (‘bad blue’) light, can have a damaging impact on our sleep/wake cycle, known as the Circadian rhythm. Our sleep, in turn supports cell regeneration, growth hormones and many other critical factors. In fact, the very latest findings are suggesting that lack of sleep, or more precisely, disruption of circadian rhythms should be added to the list of causes for myopia.
In any case, the chain undeniably repeatedly links back to light.
In simple terms, the form, shape and development of our eyes are determined initially by genes and then, in turn, by a cascade of hormones, which are partially regulated by exposure to light. Since we now spend so much time indoors, and consequently within the many developing LED technologies of lighting and screen devices, it is unsurprising that our development is being affected.
Getting light right
There’s no getting away from the fact that we humans now live an indoor life. We depend on artificial light. So, aside from spending time outside (that’s a given), and improving sleep quality, let’s take a look at two other factors.
1. GOOD & BAD BLUE LIGHT
It’s important to grasp that not all blue light is bad.
In natural sunlight, there is a precise and regular daily change in the intensity of blue light (more intense in the morning, less as daylight fades). The levels in the morning gently stimulate us to wake (through decrease in the release of melatonin), a reduction in exposure to blue light later in the day, encourages the production of melatonin to help us wind down and prepare for rest. These levels of blue light are healthy and vital. This is ‘good’ blue, referred to by RAY Lighting as Nature’s BlueTM (which is increasingly recognised as an industry term for safe blue light).
But shorter wavelength blue light will overstimulate our systems when we are exposed to large cumulative doses or significant spikes at the wrong time of day. There are many side effects of this, and more being discovered every day, but one could well be the effect on our eyesight.
Not only does this ‘bad’ blue light stimulate production of the wrong hormones, but – because it causes the formation of free radicals or reactive oxygen species that cause oxidative damage to the retinal cells – it also causes, in this case not myopia but, age-related macular degeneration. This is a gradual loss of central vision, which leaves sufferers unable to read, drive or see the faces of their loved ones.
Regarding myopia, a theory currently being explored is that the wrong light may stimulate the growth of a slightly elongated eyeball shape, so that we need glasses to adjust the focal length for sharp vision.
Meanwhile, it is hypothesised that longer wavelength blues – the ‘good blues’ – could actually be beneficial to our systems and even play a role in decreasing the prevalence of myopia since they encourage a shorter focal length, in opposition (or balance) to the myopia trend.
2. FULL SPECTRUM LIGHT
Another key aspect of light is the spectrum we are exposed to. Within sunlight is a range (or spectrum) of colours which we have become acutely sensitive to and in sync with. One role of this variation is that it helps to render minute detail and texture. The problem is that since LED lighting is currently almost exclusively built around a blue chip, with a yellow and red blend of phosphor to create the white colour we eventual see, we are not creating light with a refined balance. This can affect our responses to the environment around us – from the way our children learn to read facial expressions to the food selections we make from our tables. But could it also be impacting the quality of our eyesight? Many experts believe it could. Find simple explainer here.
What can we do?
Whilst it is not currently known whether artificial light can replace exposure to daylight (research is underway to test this), or indeed time outdoors, we can definitely reduce our exposure to aspects of light we know to be damaging:
- With the UK banning halogen lightbulbs and switching to LED exclusively as from Sept 1st 2021, it’s important that we know what we are buying. Avoiding lightbulbs with an excess of high frequency, short wavelength blue light (look for BlueBalance technology or Nature’s Blue TM) and ensuring we install Full Spectrum bulbs is a great start.
- Ensuring that we reduce exposure to blue light later in the day by managing time spent on devices. This should also serve to support better sleep quality.
- Encourage children to be spending more time outdoors. Studies show that a minimum of 11 hours per week outside (even in winter) dramatically reduces the likelihood of myopia and can slow the development of the condition.
Even without definitive science on the precise mechanics, we can state emphatically that there is a direct correlation between quality of light and standards of eye functionality. Indoor lighting that mimics natural sunlight and its many attributes could certainly contribute to tipping the balance towards more positive outcomes in eye wellbeing and mental health.
When it comes to indoor lighting there are solutions. There is no reason we need to live under limited spectrum, ‘bad blue’ light excesses. Beautiful, quality lighting supports our health, our sleep and our mental wellbeing, not to mention the unfettered development of the new generation’s eyesight!
For more proactive ways of making sure the light in your home is as healthy as possible visit: