You probably should get away from your computer once in a while. Not only can starting at a glowing screen cause eye strain, but research also suggests that it may mess up your sleep patterns if you use a computer late into the night. If cutting back isn’t an option, though, you might want to give F.lux a try.

F.lux is a simple tool that automatically adjusts your screen’s color white balance to better match the lighting in the room at night. The idea is that it’ll make your screen less glaring to stare at and may help you sleep better by limiting your nighttime exposure to blue light, which may disrupt your sleep cycles.

As far as I’m aware, nobody’s done a formal study on whether or not F.lux actually helps limit disruption to sleep patterns, but F.lux’s website cites various studies to back up the developers’ claims. As always your mileage may vary.

flux1 (Yeah, like I’m going to publish my precise location on the Internet. Right.)

F.lux is fairly easy to use—simply download and install it, run it, then provide it with your location so it can adjust your screen to coincide with sunrise and sunset at your location. Next, adjust the “At night” setting to match the glow of your lighting, then decide whether or not you want it to transition from one mode to the other quickly (within 20 seconds) or slowly (over the course of an hour).

Personally, I prefer the slow transition; it makes for a more seamless change from one mode to the other.

flux2The first time you use F.lux, the difference between the standard “daytime” mode and might mode will be jarring, but as you continue using it, you get accustomed to the difference in color temperature. I’m at the point where I don’t even notice when it changes. If color accuracy is an issue—say you’re working on a design project—you can temporarily disable the night mode so your color perception isn’t skewed.

Still, it’s probably a good idea to give your eyes a rest—and to set the laptop down well before you go to bed.

F.lux is a free download, and it runs on OS X 10.5 or later. Its developers have also released a beta of a new version that you can try if you’re feeling daring.