Is Dark Mode Better for Your Eyes?
Some life changes do not have to be too dramatic. Sometimes all it takes is to swap a standard white background for black, and voila, you feel like you have a new phone. But seriously, switching to a dark mode involves a little more than a natural desire for a change. With a few simple steps, you can enter the world of notes, social media and apps that suddenly look mysterious and sophisticated. Besides aesthetics, however, it is health-conscious reasons that go behind dark mode.
The dark mode is available on both Android and iOS operating systems, as well as Microsoft Outlook, Safari, Reddit, YouTube, Gmail and other websites. To describe it simply, while most devices are set to display black text on a white background by default, the dark mode does the opposite: the white text is displayed on black background. More than white or black background, dark mode intends to reduce blue light exposure. But, let’s take a look at what blue light have to do with dark mode.
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When it comes to researching and writing about any health-related topic, we are ultra-careful. Even writing on such, at the first glance, a simple dilemma of whether dark mode is better for your vision, we spent numerous hours reading what optometrists and other experts say about dark mode on phones and laptops.
Dark Mode vs Blue Light
In nature blue light comes from the sun, and by scattering into the atmosphere colours sky blue. In technology blue light waves beam from screen devices. Blue light waves have more energy than other colours, hence when our brains receive them, they take them as a signal to start an active daytime routine. At the same time, the side effect of blue light exposure can be harmful. That is why one of the first claims you hear from people who switched to dark mode is an attempt to stay away from excessive blue light.
(Many modern cell phones come with a blue light filter. Check out your display settings to adjust the amount of blue light beaming from the screen.)
Others say that switching to dark mode before bedtime and eliminating blue light, helps to fall asleep faster and sleep longer and deeper. Scientifically speaking, when your phone is on light screen mode and exposes you to blue light after dark, your circadian rhythm gets disrupted, melatonin is suppressed, and your body and brain do not get a bedtime signal.
While it sounds like an easy and clever way to protect your vision, it is not all as straightforward as it seems at the first glance. Dark mode reduces blue light and screen glare, but is constantly staring at a black screen better for the eyes? Shortly, it is not for everyone. In a long run let’s find out how it affects different people.
Dark Mode at a Glance
Dark mode displays black (or grey) background with light-coloured text and icons. Dark mode can be accessed through display settings and can be easily turned on and off whenever you wish to switch. This is an interesting fact, but dark mode used to be the default setting on devices and computers before light mode. The first personal computers available only came with monochrome monitors.
Advantages of Dark Mode
Total black is trending not only in street-style looks. Many of those who prefer smart, yet polished and simple styles in clothing or interior often choose a dark mode on their phones. What it can do compared to the light screen, is to make all apps and activities throughout the phone feel cohesive, uniform even. But of course, no one denies the fact that light mode is more widely used and does not require your eyes to get used to it. Just like dark mode, it can look slim, yet it lacks certain mystery and sophistication. As many users noted, they choose dark mode because music covers, online merchandise or photography is shown in a clearer, more attractive way framed by black colour.
Longer battery life:
Although the further discussion will also focus on a few myths that people believe about the dark mode, one of the truths is that dark mode extends battery life. By using dark mode, you might notice an increased battery life span of at least 30%. That means you won’t have to worry about charging your phone too often.
At the same time to say that dark mode is an ideal solution for all types of phones and batteries, would be to generalize this claim. For instance, OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screens do benefit from dark mode. (iPhone X was the first Apple phone with an OLED screen, as well as, Samsung Galaxy S10 and the Huawei Mate P30.) In OLED screens each pixel lights up individually, which means when you turn on dark mode, pixels will be deactivated.
Contrary to OLED screens, dark mode makes no difference on older LCD screens. Those screens are backlit, which means that turning on dark mode still keeps pixels lit up.
It is believed that dark mode helps to relieve eye strain. But is it actually so? Fairly enough, the first concern that parents rise when their children spend too much time in front of a screen, is eye health, (where eye strain is one of those). DES (digital eye strain), according to the British Medical Journal, is noticed among at least 50 percent of computer users. It is right to note that eye strain can occur when you blink less than usual while working or scrolling. A standard of healthy blinking is 15 blinks a minute. Meanwhile many users lower blinking to 3 blinks per minute while sitting in front of a computer. That alone contributes to dry eyes, which as a result can cause headaches and blurred vision. Hence, the dark mode would not necessarily reduce eye strain, as much as the white background does not always cause it. “However, the effort of looking at a screen can vary a lot depending on your surroundings. In a dimly lit environment, where the main light source is your screen, the greater the eye strain provoked by a brightly lit display,” says Wired.
You can always experiment with turning on dark mode while gazing at a screen in a room with dimmed light, and see if your eyes would get less tired. Some users noted that contrary to popular statements about dark mode benefits, they noticed their eyes working harder with a dark mode in a brightly lit environment.
Speaking of dimly lit rooms, it is recommended to switch to dark mode to reduce irritating glare. When you are using default display settings in the dark surrounding, it creates an uncomfortable contrast. The glare coming from the screen can provide easy-on-the-eyes viewing.
In case of dark mode feels too heavy on your eyes, try manually dimming light mode, and adjusting brightness and level of blue rays. By doing that you will reduce the glare, without having to switch to dark mode.
Does dark mode make the text more legible? It surely can. However, you have to be ready for your eyes and brain to take some time to get used to it. That happens because when we read on a bright background, our pupils tend to constrict and increase acuity. At the same time when we look at the dark background and white text, our pupils dilate. Thus, it might take more time to focus on the text. As your pupils dilate, vision becomes less clear. Constricted under bright light vision sharpens.
(While researching for this article I experimented with dark mode on both, my cell phone and laptop at night and daylight. My eyes found it challenging to get used to dark mode on my phone, and I switched back to light background. Yet, reading white text on a black background on my laptop screen was comfortable and strangely enough, it seemed to increase my productivity.)
Keep in mind that this is not the case for everyone. According to users’ reviews, many people spend longer time on the apps because dark mode reduces legibility, and requires more effort while reading.
Effect of a dark mode on your sleep:
You are probably familiar with a claim that those who want to have a better sleep should put their phones away before bedtime or at least reduce brightness. Blue light, as mentioned earlier moves brains into active wakefulness mode, making it harder to fall asleep.
According to Wired, “Light from iPads and LED screens can produce blue-white light in quantities that affect melatonin and relatedly sleep and circadian rhythms. This could be improved by true dark mode – if it works by not using LEDs in the background.”
If you have a phone with an OLED screen, dark mode, indeed, can reduce the level of blue light. If you do not want to use dark mode, try switching to night modes that can replace blue light with orange hues. Besides that, you can always limit screen time in bed, and switch to a book instead.
Dark mode’s effect on health
In a conclusion, we must finally decide whether dark mode has more health benefits than disadvantages. Dark mode’s benefits are undeniable. Generally, it is easier on the eyes than a white bright screen. At the same time dark mode requires pupils to dilate, making it harder to focus on text and images.
The dark mode is more individual than the default bright screen setting. For instance, All About Vision says that “people who have myopia or astigmatism also may experience halation (from the word “halo”). Halation occurs when light spreads past a certain boundary, creating a foggy or blurry appearance.”
For many screen users, white text on black background makes it more challenging to read. The halation effect (when you are reading white text on black background your iris has to open up, which can deform the eye lens and make white letters appear to blur) is more common to occur when using dark mode. That is one of the main reasons why people with vision issues should stay away from it. Instead, they can try dimmed light mode.
Conclusion? No matter the mode you use on your phone (or decide to switch back and forth, depending on the room lighting), the best way to ensure comfortable viewing is to visit an eye doctor for a regular eye exam. That is especially concerning anyone with vision problems where dark mode can cause more issues than improve vision. Make sure your eyes do not experience any strain while working, reading or spending leisure time staring at a screen.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is dark mode better for eyes?
The main difference between dark and light modes is reduced blue light exposure. If you are experiencing digital eye strain, then yes, dark mode can help with protecting your eyes. Although dark mode has more benefits than light when it comes to certain eye symptoms, make sure to always check with your eye doctor if it won’t have any harmful side-effect.
How to turn on dark mode on iPhone?
It is easy to turn on dark mode on your iPhone. Go to Settings and find Display & Brightness. Tap and select Dark display between two available modes.
How to turn on dark mode on MacBook?
Go to Apple menu and select System Settings. Click on Appearance (side bar). Select Dark mode (you will see three modes available, Dark, Light and Auto).
Is there dark mode on Android?
Yes, and to turn on dark mode on your Android phone go to Settings and tap on Display. Select Dark mode.