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Does reading in dim light really hurt your eyes?

Yes, but not as badly as you might have thought when your parents scolded you for reading under the covers with a flashlight. The idea that reading in dim light ruins eyesight was named in a 2007 British Medical Journal study as one of seven medical myths doctors are likely to believe. Reading in low light does not damage eyesight, but it does cause eyestrain. Eyestrain develops because your visual muscles get mixed signals. In low light, the iris relaxes to open the pupil wide to collect the most light. But when you read, the iris contracts to help the eye focus on the text. With eyestrain, your eyes can feel dry, itchy and sore. Your vision also can blur, a symptom that overlaps with nearsightedness. Perhaps that's where this myth originated. So, yes, although reading in low light can make your eyes sore, it won't hurt your eyesight. To avoid eyestrain, turn on another light or take breaks every 15 to 30 minutes.

Using your eyes in dim light does not damage them. For centuries, all nighttime reading and sewing was done by candlelight or with gas or kerosene lamps. However, good lighting does make reading easier and can prevent eye fatigue.

Laura C. Fine, MD
Ophthalmology
Although dim lighting will not adversely affect your eyesight, it will tire your eyes out more quickly. The best way to position a reading light is to have it shine directly onto the page, not over your shoulder. A desk lamp with an opaque shade pointing directly at the reading material is the best possible arrangement. A light that shines over your shoulder will cause a glare, making it more difficult to see the reading material.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Dim lights are great for watching movies or having sex, and they're also fine for your eyes. What does hurt your eyes is being indoors a lot. People who grow up outdoors must accommodate their eyes between close up objects and the horizon; this exercise keeps their eyes limber and supple so they can see better for longer.

As a side note, our eyes are extremely sensitive to peripheral motion. When we focus ahead all day long, we don't take time to allow this peripheral vision to dominate. So if you work at a computer, take time to look at the person on the other side of the room (or even farther away). And by the way, you are doing more than your eyes good. Achieving this peripheral vision is particularly useful for meditation.
YOU: The Owner's Manual, Updated and Expanded Edition: An Insider's Guide to the Body that Will Make You Healthier and Younger

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.