A man reading a book under a tree. The sun has almost set and it's dark, but a magical glow emanates from the book and illuminates the immediate area.

Is reading in the dark bad for your eyes?

18 Apr 2024

The simple answer is yes. Reading in the dark can be bad for your eyes. Yet, it will not cause long-term damage to your eyesight and will not lead to short-sightedness. However, it can result in eye strain which creates temporary discomfort. In this blog post, we will enlighten you on how reading in the dark can impact your eyes and how best to avoid eye strain in these circumstances.

If you are less of an early bird and more of a nighthawk, you might find yourself reading late into the night. However, you will be putting a lot of strain on your eyes which unlike those of a nocturnal creature, struggle to see in very low light. And while the retina of your eye is naturally designed to adapt to different light conditions, the muscles in your eye that help with the focusing of light onto the retina have to work really hard when the lights are low. Your eyes will therefore get tired leading to what is referred to as eye strain.

Why does reading in low light cause eye strain?

In dark or low light, it is harder for your eyes to focus. You also tend to blink less which can lead to dry eyes and eye strain. Despite this, difficulty seeing in the dark could be a sign of certain eye conditions. Your eyesight deteriorates as you get older which can sometimes make it more difficult to see at night. This condition is known as presbyopia. Also, myopia (or near-sightedness) and astigmatism can make reading in low lighting more tricky.

A blonde woman reading a book sitting at an open window while the sun is setting outside

What are the symptoms of eye strain?

Although temporary, this kind of eye fatigue is very uncomfortable and will likely leave your eyes feeling heavy and you may also experience itchiness or a burning session in your eyes, headaches, shoulder and/or neck pain and blurred vision.

Does reading a digital screen in low light damage your eyes?

Viewing your phone, tablet, Kindle or other digital device in low light seems logical because the screen itself emits bright light. Yet, this can also lead to eye strain. Your eyes will have to work really hard to look at a bright screen in the dark. They will be forced to adjust between the bright light coming from your device and the dimly-lit room. This can result in a certain kind of eye strain referred to as digital eye strain, or Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS).

How do you prevent eye strain when reading in the dark?

If you notice that you are squinting your eyes to read in any light setting, speak to your optician about getting a pair of reading glasses or multifocal glasses.

When using a digital screen for reading, it is worth investing in blue light lenses which will shield your eyes from blue-violet light and will reduce digital eye strain.

Be aware of how often you are blinking your eyes. Blinking them more frequently can help to lubricate them and thus help you to avoid dry eyes.

Speak to your optician about eye drops, if you find that your eyes are getting dry or feeling irritated.

Ensure you take regular breaks from looking at digital screens. Try to follow the 20-20-20 rule, which suggests that every 20 minutes, you take a 20-second break and look at an object 20 feet away.

Make sure you book regular eye tests to make sure your prescription is up to date.

When reading on a digital device, make sure you turn the light on in the room at the time so that it is a similar brightness to the screen you are looking at.

A woman in warm winter clothes looking at her phone in the dark

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Keeping reading but take care of your eyes!

Eye strain might only be a temporary condition that causes you discomfort in the short-term but we would still advice that you take all the necessary precautions in order to avoid it. It is simple and easy to do and will not require you to make big changes to your routine. Remember, to speak to your optician if you have long-term problems with visibility in the dark or long-lasting symptoms of eye strain.