Did your parents ever scold you for reading in the dark? “You’ll hurt your eyes,” they might have said, or, “Be careful or you’ll ruin your vision.” Although this is a common claim, few people know if there’s any truth behind it. Whether you begrudgingly tucked away your book as a child, turned on a light, or continued reading in the dark regardless, you likely wondered if your parents were right. Does reading in the dark hurt your eyes? Or is this an old wives’ tale?
Does Reading in the Dark Hurt Your Eyes?
So does reading in the dark hurt your eyes? According to most ophthalmologists and optometrists, the answer is no. You might strain your eyes while reading in the dark, which can give you a headache, but it won’t cause lasting damage. As we age, most of us will experience a decline in our vision, but this is largely determined by our family history – not how often we strain our eyes by reading in inopportune environments.
However, some researchers do argue that straining your eyes often as a child or reading for long periods in general can contribute to a decline in vision over time (source). For example, some studies have shown that people with the highest levels of education and people in careers that require a lot of reading (lawyers, editors, writers) experience higher levels of near-sightedness. That said, some criticize these studies for not taking into account the fact that these people often also have greater access to eye doctors.
Understanding Eye Strain
So why do our eyes sometimes hurt after we’ve been reading in the dark? Like any muscle in the body, our eyes can become weak when they’re overworked. Reading in dim light is challenging for the eyes because of the lack of contrast between the printed text and the page. Therefore, the eyes become tired more quickly than they would otherwise. This is known as eye strain, and its symptoms include headaches, fatigued eyes, itchy eyes, blurred vision, and light sensitivity. These symptoms will fade when your eyes are no longer strained.
Other causes of eye strain include the following:
- Reading or driving for a prolonged period of time
- Looking at digital screens for too long
- Being exposed to bright lights or a glare
- Struggling to see in an inadequately lit environment
- Feeling stress or tired
- Exposing your eyes to dry moving air (from a fan, heater, or AC system)
A lot of people experience eye strain at work because they stare at a computer screen for a large part of their day. If this sounds like you, remember the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away. This is like giving your eyes little stretches throughout the day.
So whether you’re trying to read without waking up your partner or you’re reading past sunset and don’t want to go inside just yet, don’t worry too much about reading in the dark. But if you want to avoid a headache, it’s best to turn on a light.
P.S. If your eyes frequently bother you, check out our blog post What to Do When Your Eyes Hurt.
When did you last visit your optometrist? If you live in southwest Missouri, contact Heffington’s. Since 1975, the Heffington family has been assisting the Springfield community with top-quality eye care and affordable eyeglasses and contacts. One of the unique features of our family-owned business is that we manufacture lenses at our own laboratory, giving us total control over the service and pricing, and we’re happy to pass our savings on to you. To learn more about our products and services, please get in touch with us online, send an email to [email protected], or give us a call at 417-869-3937 (Optiland location) or 417-882-3937 (House of Vision location). We look forward to hearing from you!