As more professionals work remotely and students e-learning at home, the use of digital devices has nearly doubled overnight, according to Nielsen Global Media.
“Now his text book, his live interaction, everything... is his ipad. I mean it's countless hours in his room keeping up with classes, keeping up with friends,” hockey mom Louise Sclafani said of her 17-year-old son. “Social interaction is all on his ipad and it's stressful for me to watch that,” added Sclafani, who is also an optometrist at a private practice in Chicago, as well as a clinical associate professor at the Illinois Eye Institute.
Blue light and sleep
The blue light that's emitted from screens can delay the release of melatonin, increase alertness, and negatively impact the body's circadian rhythm.
Sclafani told NutraIngredients-USA, “Melatonin levels are really important to help us get into the proper sleep phase. If it’s suppressed, we don't get there. If our body is tricked into thinking it's still day time and daylight, it really affects when we get down to sleep. Unfortunately, the blue light interferes with that and it just tricks us.”
When parents and their children come into her practice with screen time concerns, Sclafani said she encourages them to take charge. “We say well, you can be proactive, we can recommend vitamin supplementation that has been shown by a number of studies to help with macular pigments.” Sclafani added that the elderly population typically suffers from macular degeneration, but the age keeps getting younger and younger.
Sclafani sits on the scientific advisory board for EyePromise and helps with product development. Last year the company added Screen Shield Teen to its ocular nutrition supplement line. The chewable nutraceutical is formulated to preserve and support visual comfort and wellness for children ages 4 to 17 years old.
“We have a pretty impressive scientific advisory board made up of leading optometrists,” said Andreas Wolf, president at EyePromise. “There are a lot of studies out there that talk about the key ingredients that we have in our products, especially around zeaxanthin to lutein, which have shown protective qualities and help improve how our eyes function.”
Indeed, lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation has been shown to increase macular pigment optical density and improve study subjects’ headache frequency, eye strain, eye fatigue and other visual performance measures often associated with prolonged digital screen time.
“Zeaxanthin is a carotenoid derived from peppers. And lutein is taken from the marigold flower. So these are natural ingredients. So the risks are virtually non-existent,” said Wolf. “For kids, the teen formulation, we really focused on the natural aspect of zeaxanthin and lutein, and we have some vitamin C in there and vitamin E to provide additional protection. We just try to keep everything as clean as possible. You know, we give it to our own kids and family so we want to be as safe and as efficacious as possible.”
Wolf told us that the uptick in screen time has also led to a surge in sales. “We have not only seen a pretty significant increase in sales, but we’ve also seen a lot of interest in products that specifically are geared toward screen time. So we've seen pretty significant interest which coincides with search terms on google. Correlating with that, we've seen a significant uptick both in terms of interest and in terms of orders.”
With childrens’ eyes still developing, Sclafani said vision protection is crucial for kids whose retinas have not yet fully matured.
“Kids have a naturally clear lense. As we mature over years, that lens becomes more yellow. This yellow lens serves as a filter and absorbs some of that short wavelength blue light. Kids don't have that. So it goes right through the front surface of the eye, through the lens to the retina.”
Sclafani said she recommends the 20-20-20 rule, which says that for every 20 minutes spent looking at a screen, a person should look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Experts also suggest screen time be monitored for posture, as children don’t typically notice eye strain as much as adults.