You’ve probably heard that looking at digital devices for long periods adversely affects your sleep quality and eyesight. But does using dark mode help?
Dark mode reduces screen glare and blue light on laptop screens and mobile devices. However, there’s no scientific evidence that the dark mode setting makes a real difference.
This article explains dark mode and what science has to say about using this display option.
What is Dark Mode?
Dark mode, also known as dark theme or night mode, is a display setting on many computers and smartphones.
The default setting on most electronic devices is black text on a white background, sometimes called light mode.
Switching your device to dark mode will display white text on a dark background. Light text on a dark screen is called an inverted color scheme.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), digital eye strain is related to how we use our devices. Eye strain isn’t necessarily linked to the blue light that comes from our digital screens.1
Is Dark Mode Better For Your Eyes?
Using night mode settings or black themes may be easier on your eyes than looking at bright, white screens. This is especially true in low-light settings like nighttime.
However, color inversion makes it harder to read for others. If this happens to you, eye dilation may be the culprit.
When you look at dark text on a light background, your pupils constrict to provide sharper visual acuity. Your pupils dilate when the background changes from white to black or darker colors.
Eye dilation is a normal response to low light conditions, but it makes it harder to focus on text. People with astigmatism might have a tough time reading in night mode.
What Does Research Say About Dark Mode?
Studies are inconclusive on whether dark themes or other blue light filtering solutions work to reduce eye strain.
More research has been done on dark mode’s effect on sleep patterns than on eye health.
A 2019 study examined Apple’s night shift feature on the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. The study found no significant difference between people who used the night shift feature on their iPad before bed and those who didn’t.2
The study’s authors stated that the night shift feature alone wouldn’t be enough to restore circadian rhythm. Adjusting the device’s brightness seemed to be equally or even more important.
This discovery lines 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
Advantages of Dark Mode
Although the research into dark mode’s effects is inconclusive, some claim the setting benefits them. You can achieve most of these benefits by manually adjusting your screen brightness.
Here are some potential advantages of dark mode:
Avoids Screen Glare
Looking at a bright screen in low-light environments can cause an irritating glare. Using dark mode significantly reduces glare, which leads to more comfortable viewing.
If you don’t want to use dark mode, manually dimming your screen with the default theme will have the same effect.
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 your screen's brightness settings, especially in dark environments.
Increases Battery Life
Dark mode may increase the battery life on your device. This is not a health benefit but may make your life easier.
Manually dimming your screen has the same battery-saving effect.
How Do You Use Dark Mode?
You can access dark mode via the display settings on your mobile phone or computer.
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 can’t find the dark mode option, this feature may have a different name on your phone, such as night mode. Or, your model is older and doesn’t offer a dark mode theme.
Other Ways to Reduce 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 taking a 20-second break to look at an object 20 feet away every 20 minutes of screen time.1
- Lubricate your eyes. Use over-the-counter artificial tears to keep your eyes hydrated. This is helpful when you are using the computer for extended periods.
When to Call a Doctor
Seek professional help if you 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
- Vision obstructions
- Signs of an eye infection
- Dark mode may reduce eye strain and dry eye for some people who spend a lot of time staring at screens
- Currently, no conclusive evidence proves dark mode works for anything besides extending the battery life of your device
- There’s no harm in trying dark mode to improve your eye health
- If you continue having symptoms of eye strain and dry eye, visit your eye doctor to discuss other treatments
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