Updated on 

November 17, 2021

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What Is Dark Mode and Is It Better For Your Eyes?

Key Takeaways 

  • Dark mode may reduce eye strain and dry eye for some people who spend a lot of time staring at screens
  • However, there is no conclusive evidence that proves dark mode works for anything besides extending the battery life of your device
  • There is no harm in giving dark mode a try to improve your eye health
  • If you continue to have symptoms of eye strain and dry eye, you should visit your eye doctor to discuss other treatments

What is Dark Mode?

Dark mode is also known as dark theme. The setting is available on many smartphone models. 

The default setting on most devices is to show black text on a white background. 

Switching your device to dark mode means that it will display white text on a dark background.

Dark mode is accessed via your phone’s display settings. It can be switched on and off to your preferences.

When applied, dark mode is set across the entire user interface. This includes apps.

If you cannot find the dark mode option, this feature may have a different name on your phone. Or, your model is outdated and does not offer dark mode.

Dark mode is used to reduce blue light exposure. This helps with eye strain that may come with extended screen time. 

Some eye symptoms may suggest that it’s time to start using dark mode to protect your eyes and reduce blue light exposure. For example:

  • Frequent dry eye
  • Eye strain or pain
  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Insomnia 
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Visual disturbances

However, there is no definitive evidence to prove that dark mode can help with these eye symptoms.

Is Dark Mode Better For Your Eyes?

Using dark themes may be better for your eyes. But first, we need to consider the way blue light affects your eyes.

Blue light waves come from your devices’ screens. These waves provide more energy than other colors of light. They send our brains the signal that it is daytime.

We are only beginning to understand the side effects of excessive blue light. However, we have learned that blue light may confuse our eyes.

Some people who promote dark themes claim that using them before bedtime helps them fall asleep more quickly. Some also say that it helps them stay asleep for longer.

This may be because default screen settings expose you to more blue light after dark. This affects your circadian rhythm and suppresses melatonin. This is the hormone that tells your body it is bedtime.

Dark mode may also be easier to read. This is especially when you are in a room with the lights off.

The reduction in blue light may also reduce any squinting or eye strain linked to excessive brightness. 

However, these theories about blue light and eyes are not backed by research. They are neither supported by professional opinion. 

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) states that digital eye strain occurs from how we use our devices. Eye strain is not necessarily linked to the blue light that comes from our phones.1

What Does Research Say About Dark Mode?

Studies on whether dark themes or other blue light filtering solutions work to improve eye strain are inconclusive.

However, it seems that dark themes are more likely to affect sleep rhythm than eye strain. Some research has been done on the effect of dark mode and the ability to fall asleep.

A 2019 study of Apple’s dark mode features did not show any significant difference in melatonin production between people who used the night shift feature on their iPad before bed and those who did not.2

The study’s authors also stated that the night shift feature alone would not be enough to restore circadian rhythm. Adjusting the device’s brightness seemed to be equally or even more important.

This discovery appears to line up with official recommendations from experts. The AAO suggests reducing glare and brightness by adjusting the settings on your screen and setting devices to dark themes.1

Some research suggests that there may be a link between blue light and how quickly you fall asleep. 

A 2017 study showed that playing games on a smartphone before bed made people take longer to fall asleep compared to those who used a blue light filter on their device.3

Advantages of Dark Mode 

Although the research into dark mode’s effects is inconclusive, some people claim the setting benefits them.

Here are some potential advantages of dark mode:

  • Reduces eye strain. A dark interface can increase the contrast between the text you are reading and the background. This can make the text easier to read on your device. 
  • Cuts down on blue light exposure. Blue light exposure can lead to side effects such as difficulty sleeping and eye strain. A black background on your device may cut down exposure.4 However, you may also achieve this by adjusting the brightness of your screen, especially when you’re in dark environments.
  • Increases battery life. Dark mode may increase the battery life on your device. This is not a health benefit. However, if you look at device screens often, it may be beneficial for you.

Disadvantages of Dark Mode

There are also some disadvantages of dark mode:

  • Not always better for eye strain. Light against dark is not always beneficial for eye strain. Content may appear washed out, increasing eye fatigue.
  • Difficult to read. Dark modes can be challenging to read, especially in well-lit, sunny rooms.
  • May not save battery power. A dark theme will not save your battery on devices with older LCD screens. OLED screens are designed to reserve your battery life in dark mode.

Potential Effects of Blue Light (+ Other Treatments) 

The following conditions may possibly be linked to blue light (although more research is needed in terms of dry eye and eye strain):

  • Dry eye
  • Eye strain
  • Insomnia

Treatment for these symptoms include:

  • Melatonin supplements or prescription-strength sleep medicine for insomnia. For example, eszopiclone or zolpidem.
  • Corticosteroid eye drops or anti-inflammatory medication for dry eye.
  • Prescription eyeglasses for eye strain.

Other ways to prevent eye strain and reduce blue light exposure include:

  • Stay hydrated. Drink enough water during the day. This helps your entire body stay well-lubricated, including the eyes.
  • Take breaks from screens. The AAO suggests a minimum 20-second break every 20 minutes of screen time.1 You can try keeping your phone out of your bedroom overnight. You should also reduce screen time in the two hours before you go to sleep. 
  • Lubricate your eyes. Use over-the-counter eye drops to keep your eyes hydrated. This is helpful when you are using the computer for extended periods.

Seek professional help if you start to experience worrisome eye symptoms, especially if home treatments and prevention methods aren’t working.

Meet with an eye doctor if you notice any of the following:

  • Significant eye strain or pain 
  • Chronic dry eye 
  • Consistent headaches or migraine attacks that do not respond to over-the-counter medication 
  • Vision obstructions
  • Signs of an eye infection
6 Cited Research Articles
  1. Blue Light and Digital Eye Strain, American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), Daniel Porter, December 2020
  2. Nagare, R et al. “Does the iPad Night Shift mode reduce melatonin suppression?.” Lighting research & technology (London, England : 2001) vol. 51,3 (2019): 373-383
  3. Heo, Jung-Yoon et al. “Effects of smartphone use with and without blue light at night in healthy adults: A randomized, double-blind, cross-over, placebo-controlled comparison.” Journal of psychiatric research vol. 87 (2017): 61-70
  4. Tosini, Gianluca et al. “Effects of blue light on the circadian system and eye physiology.” Molecular vision vol. 22 61-72. 24 Jan. 2016
  5. Zhao, Zhi-Chun et al. “Research progress about the effect and prevention of blue light on eyes.” International journal of ophthalmology vol. 11,12 1999-2003. 18 Dec. 2018
  6. Tähkämö, Leena et al. “Systematic review of light exposure impact on human circadian rhythm.” Chronobiology international vol. 36,2 (2019): 151-170
Melody Huang is an optometrist and freelance health writer. Through her writing, Dr. Huang enjoys educating patients on how to lead healthier and happier lives. She also has an interest in Eastern medicine practices and learning about integrative medicine. When she’s not working, Dr. Huang loves reviewing new skin care products, trying interesting food recipes, or hanging with her adopted cats.
Ellie Swain earned her B.A. in Sociology from the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom. After working in digital marketing and copywriting after graduating, she transitioned to full-time freelance writing and editing. Ellie has a passion for social causes and writes regularly on issues of homelessness in which physical and mental health disorders are common among rough sleepers. She aims to create authoritative and research-backed content on addiction to encourage people to find the support and treatment they need.
https://www.visioncenter.org/author/ellie/
Author: Ellie Swain  | UPDATED November 17, 2021
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Medical reviewer: Dr. Melody Huang, O.D.
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Dr. Melody Huang, O.D.
The information provided on VisionCenter.org should not be used in place of actual information provided by a doctor or a specialist.

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