Bad for Eyes to Watch TV in Dark?

For a relaxing evening with your kids or partner, nothing beats cozying up on the couch for a movie in the dark. After all, watching with bright lights on kind of ruins the mood of relaxation, doesn’t it? But, is that evening viewing hurting your eyes?

Research has already confirmed that it is bad for your eyes to watch TV in the dark. New studies are determining just how damaging that nighttime TV viewing can be. According to recent research, multiple factors contribute to its effects on your eyesight. Fortunately, most of the effects of watching TV in the dark are temporary.

Why is watching TV in the dark bad for my eyes?

You may often watch TV in a dimly lit room and still have excellent vision. Watching TV in the dark is unlikely to damage your eyesight in a significant way. Primarily, the issue caused by your midnight movie marathon is eye strain. You may already know that staring at computer or mobile device screens for a long time can result in eye strain. Well, it turns out the kind of strain put on your eyes by viewing a TV screen in a dark room has similar causes:

  • Focusing the eyes at one distance for a long time
  • Reduced blinking
  • Focusing in poor lighting

Light or Dark—What’s the Difference?

Since eye strain can occur anyway when looking at a screen for a long period, you may be wondering what difference it makes whether the room is dark. The difference is the contrast between the dark room and the bright light coming from the TV screen. Additional strain is put on your eyes because the surrounding lighting does not match that of the area you’re focusing on—that is, the screen.

That difference in lighting forces your eyes to work harder. If you look at the wall opposite your television while a show plays in a dark room, you will notice that the light being emitted from the screen changes rapidly throughout the program. This quickly changing level of illumination is difficult for the eyes to adjust to. When you watch these flickering light changes in a dark room, it is even more difficult for your eyes to focus and adjust to the flashing light because that is the only source of illumination. A lit room evens out the light sources your eyes are exposed to because it has less contrast difference from the TV illumination

Effects of Eye Strain from Watching Television in the Dark

No matter what the source—computers, smartphones, tablets, e-readers, or TV—eye strain causes several uncomfortable symptoms. Among the most common are dry eyes, headaches, fatigue, and blurry vision. One of the reasons for these symptoms is that people tend to blink less when they are focusing on a screen. Less blinking means dryer eyes. Eye drops can help, but if you find yourself depending upon eye drops daily, then you may want to take steps to reduce your TV-related eye strain.

The other culprit behind your uncomfortable vision symptoms is the intense focusing required to look at a television screen for several hours. This act is taxing on your eye muscles. The muscles in the eyes are tiny. When you fix your gaze at one distance, whether far or near (as when sewing or reading), it’s like holding a squat for several hours—only with your eyeballs. As stated, a dark room makes those muscles work all the harder.

Fortunately, modern televisions are actually better for your eyes than older models. The high resolution picture means your eyes don’t have to work quite as hard to focus. However, you are still looking at a fixed distance for long periods, so you should remember to blink regularly in order to keep your eyes moist. Also, take occasional breaks to stretch your body and your eyes. Commercial breaks are a good time to glance away from the screen for a while and look at objects both closer and further away than the TV. If you’re watching a movie, pause it to get up and refill your drink.

You’ll be doing a favor for your peepers!
You can take steps to reduce the level of strain put on your eyes while watching television, even if you choose to keep the room dim. First, make sure your room is set up so that you have a comfortable place to view that is not too close to the screen. Sitting too close makes your eyes work harder at focusing on the pixels the picture is made up of. Next, lower the brightness of your screen. This will reduce the extent to which your TV affects the overall lighting in the room. You can also reduce the contrast so different areas of the screen are not vastly brighter. Your TV comes with setting controls for a reason; use them!

The Gist
Basically, if you can watch TV in the dark without feeling any negative effects, then you’re probably fine. For people who don’t watch TV every night, the occasional viewing in a dark room likely won’t cause any significant discomfort. If you do regularly watch television in the evening or in a room with no windows, you can reduce the discomfort caused by eye strain by turning on a few lights. Just be sure not to have bright lights positioned such that they cause screen glare since that can also cause eye strain.

Most effects of viewing television in the dark are mild and temporary. Whether you choose to watch a movie in a dim room is really a matter of personal comfort. But, you probably agree that watching a movie in the dark is the best way to set the tone for a casual romantic evening or a creepy horror film. It’s just not the same with the lights on.
Regularly straining your eyes can exacerbate and accelerate other eye problems, such as macular degeneration, but does not cause these problems by itself.