Is reading in the dark actually bad for your eyes?

Submitted by cjdockens on Wed, 12/11/2019 - 13:58


As finals approach, many people may find themselves spending late nights studying and working. It is important to take care of oneself during this busy time of year, and this includes taking care of your eyes! Many people have probably heard that reading in the dark is going to hurt your eyes, but most do not know that it doesn’t directly harm one’s vision.

The misconception of reading in the dark is widely spread in American culture. Most professionals agree upon the fact that it isn’t the act of reading in the dark itself that damages the eyes but rather that reading in the dark can cause eye strain, also known as eye fatigue. Eye strain is caused by essentially overworking different parts of the eye. Some of the structures involved are shown in the image below. Part of the reason why this happens is that your retina adapts to certain light conditions, and it needs time to adapt to new light conditions. Additionally, the muscles in your eye are responsible for focusing the light onto the retina to make the clearest image possible. It is harder for the eyes to focus in less light, so in extreme lighting, these muscles work harder than they do in typical light during the day or in a well-lit house, which leads to those muscles fatiguing. Eye strain can also be caused by prolonged screen time, long exposure to bright light, driving, and reading in any conditions, all of which require the eyes to be focused on a single thing for a long time. 

The degree to which eye strain may affect one’s vision permanently has not been thoroughly studied, but most eye professionals agree upon the fact that is does not do significant damage to the eye. While the eye strain may not cause permanent damage, it may still cause temporary discomfort. Other symptoms of eye strain include double vision, a change in vision, and/or burning, itchy, or tired eyes. The effects of eye strain can be minimized by regularly blinking, limiting the amount of time staring at a single object, and pressing a warm washcloth over closed eyes or using eye drops to reduce the itchiness and dryness. If the symptoms continue for a very long time or are very severe it may be helpful to talk with your eye care professional to assess what the best course of action would be.