ROKA RISE. Performance Eyewear For Desk Jobs

The ROKA RISE lens has been a revelation for me. I’m wearing a pair as I write this, and - as Dan wrote in his review of ROKA eyewear more generally - I now consider them to be essential. Eyewear, to me, is a uniquely essential category since I don’t need prescription lenses. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t need glasses. I just don’t need glasses to correct my vision (yet). I need glasses for other reasons… Like a lot of folks, time staring at a screen has been an essential part of my job for a long time. Even when I was a full-time pro, I still had a lot of emails to respond to, blog posts to write, and - as always - work to do on Slowtwitch. But since becoming a full-time Game Designer and Developer at Zwift, I spend the majority of each day staring at a pair of screens. And I also commute late at night. And my eyes get tired. And the ROKA RISE lenses help with that. I prefer the tinted Z2 lenses that block more blue light to the transparent Z1s because I don’t do color-sensitive screen work. And when I say that they help, I just feel like it’s easier to look at the screen. 

At the end of the day, text is less fuzzy. And it’s just not as unpleasant. I don’t know what, physiologically that means. And that’s a weakness of this article. I love being able to reference good, peer-reviewed research. And I just don’t have it. But that hasn’t kept me from believing that these glasses help me. And everyone I’ve loaned my pair to puts them on and is immediately blown away by the effect. Thankfully, ROKA makes stylish options, so that even more of my day is spent in front of a screen thanks to the current stay-at-home directive in California, I don’t look obviously silly. Though I love the glasses enough that it wouldn’t bother me. And, of course, silliness is relative. I ran around in a skinsuit for a living for a long time...

In terms of research, I will say that this is currently a case of absence of evidence, rather than evidence of absence. On the short term basis, research would likely be largely subjective anyway, and I don’t need someone to confirm that I feel better. And on the long term side, we’re all spending more and more time staring at screens so it feels a bit like any research might be outdated the minute it comes out. Now, with that said, if research comes out that shows that blue-blockers don’t actually do anything I’d be the first to reference it. There is some research, but it’s limited. This 2017 study from the University of Houston shows a significant (58%) increase in night-time melatonin levels after using blue-blocking glasses. But it was a very small study (N=21) with obviously limited scope. 

Currently, the American Academy of Opthalmology - of which my sister is a member (she’s an MD-PhD cornea specialist at John Hopkins’ Wilmer Eye Institute) - "does not recommend any special eye wear for computer use." And they go on to state, "Everyone is very concerned that it may be harmful to the eye, and it's a valid concern, but there's no evidence it may be causing any irreversible damage." But they also do not state that there is any risk from blue-blocking eyewear. And that’s important. Even if it is purely placebo, in this case, does that matter? If I feel that it helps me and if I feel that I sleep better after working late at night, is that enough? I think it is. In this case, if the placebo effect is merely that, is the benefit - even if it is solely perceived - worth it? I did not pay for the pairs of glasses ROKA provided me for this article, but I can definitely say, after using them for close to two months now, that I would.

And I say that as someone who has been focused on this problem for a long time and who has tried - and still uses - a lot of other tools to help address this. I was an early adopter of f.lux back in 2010, long before Night Shift (which I also use) was a thing. Dark Mode on OS X and Android has been a revelation for me; I took the somewhat risky approach of running the OS X Mojave Beta - and found a bug early on with an incompatibility between Night Shift and f.lux - on my primary work machine just to get earlier access to dark mode. And, in general, I keep my monitors pretty dim (15% brightness on my two external LCDs). Whenever I borrow my wife’s phone or computer, the first thing I do is drop the brightness down. I just really struggle with the bright light.

And the idea of blue blocking eyewear is also not new. I’m an avid gamer - even more so now that I can justify it as "research" for work - and that was always the worst, because there is no Night Shift on my XBox (though I do alter my TV’s tint to be warmer). I started gaming a while back in an old pair of Persimmon-lens Oakleys that I had from college; every Princetonian has way, way more orange and black gear than is reasonable. And I found it helped. But they were designed for snow sports, and weren’t really comfortable for prolonged use or for staring at a screen. When ROKA - who, in the interest of disclosure, was my wetsuit sponsor for several years at the end of my career - introduced the RISE collection, I finally found something that solved the problem and also was actually comfortable to wear sitting at a desk, because that’s what they were designed for.

As far as whether or not ROKA’s glasses are "better" than other blue-blockers, I cannot say. ROKA emphasizes the advantage of their approach to other blue-blocking "computer" glasses, but I cannot speak to that from direct experience in either use or knowing about manufacturing. ROKA emphasizes that the blue-blocking technology is impregnated into the whole lens rather than just being a coating on the surface of the lens. This allows them to block 41% and 26% of short wavelength blue light with the ZX2 (tinted) and ZX1 (clear) lenses respectively. They contrast this with 3% from competitors that only use a coating, but I can’t speak to this beyond relaying their own stats.

The only downside of not using a coating is that the RISE lenses are not currently available in prescription options. They’re great for people like me who don’t need a prescription. And they also seem to work just fine, based on second-hand information, with contact lenses. ROKA is actively working on prescription options and says they are "coming." Coming when is a big question, though, as it is with so many things right now… But they are working on it.

This article seems both more and less salient now than when I started it. With everything going on, blue blocking eyewear seems like a trivial focus. At the same time, as literally every meeting I’m a part of is now done by video conference, and I spend even more time staring at a screen, the degree to which these glasses are an essential part of my daily life has only increased. My world seems to exist at least as much inside of Zoom as anywhere else. And I also feel like, with so many people stuck indoors, that the importance and impact of the work I do and of what Zwift means is only magnified. Lots more screen time in my future… with my ROKA RISE on my face.