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24 Mar 2020

How to avoid eyestrain on your smartphone

Excessive exposure to blue light from your display can cause damage to your eyes and long-term disruption to your sleep

With many of us self-isolating or simply staying indoors, it's likely that we'll be glued to a screen for longer than usual. While it might be an appealing way to stay informed and entertained, prolonged exposure to your phone's display has its downsides.

Experts have been clear that the blue light emitted from smartphone displays can have negative effects on our eyes and our overall health, but there are a few ways that you can reduce the risks.

We'll tell you what you need to know about prolonged screen exposure, and how to give your eyes a rest.

Browse all the latest news and advice on COVID-19.

What are the risks associated with smartphone displays?

Now more than ever, we're relying on our smartphones for everything. Keeping in touch with family and friends, catching up on the latest news and just to entertain ourselves. Our smartphones have become an extension of ourselves, but they're not without their perils, especially when used for long periods of time.

There are a few main issues associated with any type of prolonged screen exposure, whether it's on your smartphone, laptop or tablet. You may be familiar with digital eye strain, also referred to as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), which is a group of eye or vision-related issues that arise due to use of your screens for long stretches of time.

Poor lighting, glare on your screen and bad posture are all things that can trigger CVS and the symptoms that result from it go from eye strain to blurred vision and dry eyes.

Aside from just eye-related issues, an area that is less talked about is how using tech, especially your smartphone, can affect your sleep. As with televisions and laptops, smartphones emit a type of blue light that your brain interprets as daylight. This blue light suppresses the release of melatonin, the natural sleep hormone made by the pineal gland in your brain, that tells your body when it's bedtime.

So when you're getting your last look at Facebook or sending a couple of WhatsApp messages right before bed, the blue light emitting from your smartphone is effectively stimulating your brain by confusing it into thinking it's daytime. Not only does this increase your alertness and delay your bedtime - which in itself affects your sleep pattern over time - but it also delays your REM sleep and in turn reduces how much REM sleep you get altogether.

REM (rapid eye movement) is characterised as the stage in your sleep where your eyes move rapidly. It's typically the stage when dreams are formed and REM sleep is known to stimulate the parts of the brain that retain memories. A chronic lack of REM sleep can have several physical and mental effects including cardiovascular disease, depression and obesity.

What are manufacturers doing?

Granted, a lot of the ways to avoid these adverse effects lie within changing your own habits when using your tech. But an increasing number of tech manufacturers are making a point to reduce the exposure you have to this harmful blue light.

One way they're doing this is by making displays that are certified to provide eye comfort and reduce blue-light emission. TUV Rheinland is an internationally recognised German testing and certification body that gives certification to displays that provide eye comfort.

Phones receive certification for providing comfort in three ways: by lowering the amount of blue light they emit, having 'flicker-free quality' that reduces screen flickering and reducing the reflections you get on the device. A few of the models that come with this technology are listed below:

  • The AMOLED displays in the Samsung Galaxy S10e, S10, S10+, S10 5G's received Eye Comfort certification in 2019. The brand claimed to have reduced the blue light emission in its AMOLEDs displays by 5%, down to just 7%.
  • If you're looking for more affordable alternatives, the Honor 8X, Huawei P Smart 2019, Huawei Y6s are also TUV certified.

Smartphone features that can help

Fortunately, most smartphones have features built in that you can use right now to make a screen a bit easier on your eyes. Many of these have also found their way onto laptops and tablets, too.

Night mode/Blue Light filter

One of the easiest ways to make your phone adapt to the evenings is to use night mode. Night mode uses warmer colours on your screen as opposed to those stark bright whites to reduce blue light exposure and eye strain. This feature will have a slightly different name depending on the phone you're using, but, in any case, you can access it in the Settings menu.

  • Android: Settings > Display > Night Light
  • Android (Samsung): Samsung's equivalent Night Light feature is called Blue Light Filter. Access it by going to your Settings > Display > Blue Light Filter
  • iOS: The easiest way to access this feature is to open the Control Center (slide up from the bottom of the screen) > press and hold the Brightness control > turn Night Shift on/off

You can also set a schedule for each mode, for example to start Night Mode at 8pm when you're winding down for bed, and have it turn off automatically in the morning.

Dark Mode

Dark Mode is essentially an all-black night-time version of your device. Instead of having to turn down your brightness at night time you can use dark mode, which uses black backgrounds that are much easier on your eyes and should make it easier for you to get to sleep. You can enable system-wide dark mode in the Settings menu.

  • Android: Settings > Display > Dark Theme
  • iOS: Settings > Display & Brightness > Dark

As with Night Mode, you can also set a schedule for Dark Mode. If you only want it in individual apps, popular ones like Facebook and WhatsApp also have the dark mode option.


It may seem obvious but the simplest way to reduce your blue light exposure is to adjust your phone's brightness settings so it's brighter when you need it to be such as when you're in the sun and softer when you don't need to be.

You can easily toggle your brightness yourself in the drop-down Quick Settings menu on Android or by swiping up the Control Center to find it on iOS. But to make your life easier, you can enable Auto Brightness so your phone automatically adjusts your screen brightness for you based on your surroundings.

  • Android: Settings > Display > Advanced > Adaptive Brightness
  • iOS: Settings > Accessibility > Display & Text Size > Auto Brightness