New LED street lights are being installed across roads in Britain with authorities in London, Cheshire, Gloucestershire and Lancashire already spending millions of pounds on upgrades. However, with the ultimate goal of saving money and reducing emissions, has our eye health been considered? The Public Health England (PHE) have warned of the harmful impact these new street lights could have on our vision and also our sleeping patterns.
The rise of LED lighting
LEDs, formally known as ‘Light-Emitting Diodes’ have become increasingly popular over the past decade and are rapidly replacing old types of lighting. Nearly all of us will come into contact with LED blue light exposure on a daily basis as it is a primary source of our most popular technologies, including:
- House lighting
The popularity of LEDs has emerged due to them being more environmentally friendly, using less energy and also not containing mercury which has been linked to numerous adverse health effects such as damage to our nervous, digestive and immune systems, as well as our lungs and kidneys.
What are the impacts of LED lights on our eye health?
Despite the environmental and financial benefits, LEDS also have their downsides, one of them being the negative impact on our eye health. With many of us looking at the blue light emitted from LEDS for long periods of time each day, with the average person picking up their smartphone an average of 85 times per day and most of us using laptops and mobiles at work or in our social time, our eyes are being affected as a result.
The blue light emitted from LEDs is harmful to the cells in our retina, which is extremely worrying as once our retina is damaged it is unable to be repaired by our body’s immune system. In addition, poor retinal health can lead to eye conditions such as macular degeneration and even blindness eventually.
How does the blue light from LED impact our sleep?
LEDs and other artificial light can interrupt sleeping patterns as humans have a biological body clock that works on a 24-hour cycle and works in rhythms based on the amount of light and dark the body is exposed to. This is known as circadian rhythm.
Not only is the artificial light of LEDs disrupting our sleep but also its emission of blue light. Whilst blue light wavelengths boosts attention, mood and reaction times, it also suppresses the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone produces to regulate sleep and wakefulness, more than any other light. It is believed that the shorter wavelengths and the body’s sensitivity to blue light causes this, which as a result has a negative impact on sleep.
What will LED street lights mean for our health?
Whilst PHE acknowledge that the blue light of these new street lamps will be beneficial for keeping drivers awake, they stress that people will find the light uncomfortable and also warn of the impact it could have on people who are not used to the different frequencies of light emitted.
PHE have warned that these LED street lights will interfere with our natural sleeping patterns and result in a feeling of permanent jet lag. PHE have suggested using LED lights that emit warm coloured light instead.
John O’Hagan, head of the PHE’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards states:
“Some people seem to be very sensitive to this light modulation, resulting in headaches migraine and less specific feelings of malaise […]The new lights could make objects appear to jump, rather than move smoothly”
Tips to protect yourself from LED street lighting
With the installation of these LED street lights well under way across the country, it is important you are keeping an extra eye on your eye health. These tips below will help protect your vision:
- Reduce screen time – for many of us it is impossible to remove our exposure to blue light all together. Instead we can reduce the amount we are exposed to, particular before bed where you should avoid all technological devices 60 minutes prior to you going to sleep
- Download free apps that can lower the amount of blue light emitted to your phone – with children being born into a world of iPad’s, Xbox’s, and smartphone you can’t cut out blue light entirely, but rather protect their vision with these free apps
- Physical screen filters can reduce blue light exposure too – these protective screens can alter the wavelength of light being produced
- Eat foods full of Vitamin A – this is important for essential eye health and can be found in peppers and spinach. Spinach also has large amounts of astaxanthin which reduces retinal cell death
- Wear some protective lenses to neutralize blue light – amber coloured lenses are the most effective for this