Q. I often watch TV in a dark room because it reminds me of watching a movie in the movie theater. But I sometimes wonder if it’s bad for my eyes. I remember my parents yelling at me when I was a kid not to watch TV with the lights off because they said it would ruin my eyesight. So, what’s the deal? — Fran, Atlanta, Georgia.

Fran, you should always listen to your parents — except about this.

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There’s no evidence that watching television in a dark room will affect your eyesight, even by a small amount. It’s a myth that’s been perpetuated over the years by, okay, let’s say it, concerned parents. They see their kids sitting in a dark room, staring intently at a well-lit TV screen and immediately assume that the contrast of dark and light will somehow diminish their vision. But it’s not true. (There’s actually a scientific study to back this up.)

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That said, however, watching TV in a dark room can cause eyestrain and headaches, more so than if you watch the lights on. The reason is because the light of the TV is the only light in the room and it frequently changes depending upon what’s happening on screen. That forces the pupils of your eyes to constantly adjust and that leads to those headaches and eye weariness.

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For example, if you’re watching a horror film, the screen may be semi-dark for several minutes during a particularly creepy scene, but then it suddenly becomes super-bright when the heroine runs outdoors to escape the villain. You’ll feel your eyes widen and then squint because the contrast in lighting is so abrupt. It’s not natural and it’s why you may feel a little uneasy if you stare at an ever-changing screen for a long time.

There are some things you can do to alleviate this.

One, you can reduce the brightness of the screen. Two, you can keep a lamp on at the lowest level to provide some light in the room. Three, you can sit a little further from the screen than you would normally do in a well-lit room.

Or, you can just watch TV the way you currently do — in the dark. If it doesn’t bother you, have at it. It won’t hurt your eyesight.

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— Phillip Swann
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