Reading in the Dark: Is It Really Bad for Your Eyes?

Posted By Key-Whitman Eye Center || 18-Nov-2013

Were you the child who got in trouble for reading under the covers with a flashlight after your parents had told you to go to bed? Did your mom or dad chide you, saying you’d hurt your eyes and have to wear glasses if you read in the dark?

Were they telling you the truth, or is the thought that reading in dim light hurts your eyes simply an old wives’ tale?

What’s the truth about how reading in the dark affects your eyes?

They probably didn’t know it themselves, but your mom and dad were feeding you a myth. Surprisingly, even doctors fall prey to this one. In 2007, researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine made a list of seven health myths even doctors believe. Among them: reading in dim light ruins your eyes.

There’s no solid medical evidence that proves reading in the dark is actually harmful for your eyes. It can, however, lead to eye strain and dry eyes. It can also be difficult to focus on text on a page or other activities, such as sewing, without enough light. While it won’t hurt your eyes, many people experience headaches if they attempt to work in dim light. You’ll also blink less when reading in the dark, which is what leads to dry eyes.

Does exposure to light benefit your eyes?

One study in Australia followed 1,700 children ages six to twelve and found that the children who spent more time outdoors were less likely to experience myopia (nearsightedness). There is less incidence of myopia in Australia than in the United States and researchers hypothesize that this might be due to the fact that Australian kids spend more time outside. Environmental factors, they suspect, may encourage production of dopamine, which can have an effect on eye growth. There is, though, really no concrete evidence to support the hypothesis that more time spent outside is beneficial for the eyes.

What does this mean for you?

If you experience headaches, eye pain or dry, irritated eyes when trying to do tasks such as reading in a dimly lit space, move to an area with more light. If reading in bed is how you relax at night, install a bright reading lamp above your bed.

If you or your child experience frequent headaches or blurred vision, you should have your eyes checked. Difficulty seeing may be caused by a refractive error, which can be easily corrected with eyeglasses, contact lenses or laser eye surgery. An exam can also identify if you are suffering from a more serious eye condition.

Categories: Eye Health
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