Reading your smartphone or tablet in the dark is probably bad for you. That’s unlikely to stop you, so beyond quitting cold turkey, what are the easiest ways to fix your bedtime reading device so it doesn’t put so much strain on your eyes?

There’s a growing body of research that suggests “peering at brightly lit screens at night disrupts the body’s natural rhythms and raises the risk of medical conditions linked to poor sleep, including obesity, heart disease, strokes and depression.

While it’s no secret that artificial light takes a tolls on our circadian rhythms, recent publications suggest that LCDs might be even worse on your sleep patterns. Phone and tablet screens display light in a predominantly blue hue, and it’s now thought that the blue light emitted by these screens actually tricks our brain into waking up, when it really needs to fall asleep.

Knowing all this, are you now less likely to take your smartphone, tablet, or laptop to bed with you? We’re guessing no. What you can do instead is adjust your screen so it doesn’t have as negative an impact on your eyes. Here are a few ways and suggestions to make your nighttime screen reading a healthier and more enjoyable experience.

Dimming Your Screen on Android and iOS

Obviously, the two most popular types of tablets and smartphones are those with Android and Apple iOS installed, so we need to start there.

On iOS, to adjust the brightness, simply swipe up from the screen’s bottom and you’ll see the brightness slider under the top row of buttons.

On pure Android or Cyanogenmod, swipe down from the top of the screen to open the quick settings, select “Brightness.”

The brightness slider will pop up on your home screen. Note, the “Auto” button. You probably don’t want that enabled. Auto-Brightness is nice in theory, but in our experience it’s usually more annoying than convenient.

And, speaking of convenience, if you are running a recent version of the popular Cyanogenmod, there’s a fantastic brightness slider feature incorporated into the system, but it must first be enabled. To do so, open the Settings application and click on the “Status Bar” option. On the resulting screen, check the “Brightness control” box.

Now, when you want to adjust the brightness on your Cyanogenmod-enabled device, you simply touch the status bar and move your finger left to dim or right to brighten!

If you’re unsure what we’re talking about when we mention Cyanogenmod, we suggest you read our 8 reasons to install Cyanogenmod guide.

But, I Just Have Boring Old Android

Granted, a great many Android users aren’t using Cyanogenmod or even pure Android. That said, we appreciate the simplicity of simply being able to swipe part of the screen for instant brightness adjustments.

Luckily, the Play Store has a lot of options, including this handy app, which is not only free, but only requires one permission to install.

Once installed, Display Brightness will show up as a bar at the top of your display. The brightness adjustment bar can be customized to your heart’s liking, such as what color it is, width, length, transparency, and more.

If that doesn’t float your boat, you can search for your own solutions. There are certainly plenty to be found!

And Kindles? Yeah, We Got Those

The most popular reading tablet by far is the Kindle, and it’s no secret that How-To Geek thinks the Kindle Paperwhite is the “King of the Hill.”  The Kindle’s e-ink display is ideally suited for reading, being on par with old fashioned paper and ink. That said, you might still want to dial it down a bit when you’re reading in a darkened room.

To adjust your Paperwhite’s brightness, tap on the top of the screen to bring up the menu bar (if you’re not already in the main list/book view), then tap on the light bulb icon. Use the slider to then brighten or dim the screen.

It’s interesting to note that the new Paperwhite models launched recently by Amazon have an adaptive brightness feature that gradually steps down brightness as your eyes adjust to the darkness.

Of course, if you can’t afford a $199 brand new Paperwhite, you might have to settle for using the Kindle App on your mobile device. You already know now how to adjust the brightness on your Android or iOS system, but did you know you can change the brightness of the Kindle app independent of the system’s brightness setting?

Open the Kindle app on your device. On the Android version, it will look like the following screen. Tap the “Aa” icon and you’ll see some quick settings you can adjust. Deselect “Use system brightness” and then you can use the slider to make your custom adjustment.

Before you leave these settings, you can also change other text features such as the font size and screen color, which can further decrease eye strain.

Giving Your Eyes a Break with f.lux

We’ve mentioned f.lux in the past, but we feel we should revisit it because it’s such a valuable tool and really does take the edge off of your in-the-dark reading experience. In a nutshell, f.lux adjusts your display’s color temperature depending on the time of day, and the type or volume of ambient lighting in your room.

For example, in the morning and during the day, the sun is out so your display’s brightness should be accordingly bright and the color temperature will be bluer (6500K).

As night falls and you switch to dimmer, artificial light or ambient light sources, f.lux will automatically lower your display’s temperature (to about 3400K or less). What this means basically is that your display will appear less blue and more red, reducing eye-strain and possibly helping you sleep a little better at night.

f.lux is available for Windows, Mac, and jailbroken iPhones/iPads. It’s free of charge and easy to use, so we recommend you try it out! If you aren’t jailbroken, iOS 9.3 now has a similar feature called Night Shift built in.

If you use Android, there’s an app called Twilight (it has nothing to do with moody teenage vampires) that works similarly to f.lux. Twilight is available in the Play Store and is free.

Finally, Linux users shouldn’t feel left out. There’s a handy utility called Redshift that is intended to work just like f.lux. Of course, you might have to do a bit of configuring to get it to work the way you want it to, but if you’re a regular Linux user, you are probably used to that by now!

 Give Your Eyes a Break!

At the end of the day, nothing is going to be better for your eyes than a change of scene. Reading a book, taking a walk, or simply putting your phone down and going to sleep, can do wonders.

In real life however, we understand device users get sucked in and the hours can quickly fly by. That said, try to remember to take breaks and adjust your display’s brightness (and color temperature) per your lighting conditions.

So do you have you have any other eye-saving tips you’d like to let us know about? Be sure to tell us in our discussion forum!



Profile Photo for Matt Klein Matt Klein
Matt Klein has nearly two decades of technical writing experience. He's covered Windows, Android, macOS, Microsoft Office, and everything in between. He's even written a book, The How-To Geek Guide to Windows 8.
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