My screens hurt!

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How to ease digital eye strain

Do screens cause eye strain?

We live in a uniquely screen-filled world to which our eyes aren’t adapted. The average American gets 8+ hours of screen time a day (source: Nielsen), that can cause digital eye strain (sometimes classified as Computer Vision Syndrome). Digital eye strain is the discomfort and fatigue that comes from digital device use.

Eye strain can cause other symptoms besides eye pain. You might be experiencing digital eye strain if you get headaches, find your eyes feeling dry or have pain in your neck, shoulders and back.

How can I avoid digital eye strain?

You can set up your work space to be gentler on your eyes by using good lighting and proper screen placement. Give your eyes periodic rest, avoid sharp contrasts in brightness, and avoid using your smartphone in bed.

How can I use lighting to reduce eye strain?

Bad lighting can account for much of the difficulty you may be having with your vision and your computer or phone. Avoid harsh, direct light that can cause glare or bright spots around your work area. Light your desk from the sides, and prefer indirect light from floor lamps with soft white bulbs to the cool-tinted flicker of overhead fluorescents. Avoid extreme contrasts in brightness. You may need to dim your monitor or partially block a large window.

Look beyond the screen – distance matters

Focusing on objects near your face can be hard on your eyes. The muscles that pull your vision into focus have to work harder when you’re reading at close distance. If uninterrupted, that work can cause those muscles to stay tense, which in turn makes it hard to focus on distant objects.

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Sit at least 18 inches from your display

A good range to shoot for is 18 to 30 inches. Eighteen inches is about two sheets of standard 8.5”×11” copy paper laid side-to-side. Adjust your chair, desk and monitor so that 2/3 of your display falls below eye level. You should gaze slightly downward to see the center of your monitor.

Increase text size

Even if you have 20/20 vision, you may notice reading is more comfortable if you can position yourself farther from your screens. Change the zoom on your browser or word processor or adjust the type size setting on your operating system to ease reading at the new distance.

Take breaks

Take short breaks a few times an hour. It’s good for your eyes as well as your body. Computer users blink less when looking at a screen. Taking a break gives your eyes a chance to remoisten and rest the focus muscles. Add some short, simple exercises and you’re likely to notice an improvement.

What is the 20-20-20 rule? How to exercise your eyes

The 20-20-20 rule is a memorable guideline to get you focusing your eyes away from your screen periodically. Every 20 minutes, you should look at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. It doesn’t have to be exactly any of those 20s, but don’t be afraid to look up and space out every once in a while. It’s actually good for you!

Your computer might not be the bad guy

If you spend more than 20 minutes at a time on your phone, you could be putting yourself at more risk for eye strain than you do at work. Despite the higher resolution of today’s smart phones, your eyes will benefit from viewing your screen at or farther than 2/3 of your arm length. Add to this the contrast between your screen brightness and the darkness of your bedroom at night, and you have a homemade recipe for eye strain.

Your phone screen’s blue light is yet another reason to avoid using your phone in bed (to say nothing of the cognitive effects). Read on to understand the connections between blue light and eyesight.

Is blue light dangerous?

Blue light scatters easily and doesn’t focus well – so it can cause eyestrain. Blue light definitely affects sleep, and strong exposure may lead to age-related problems. But note that many online info sources are from industry groups with an interest in products and treatments. Adjust your lighting, screen distance, break schedule and display temperature before buying computer glasses.

Studies have shown that blue light exposure reduces melatonin, an important sleep-related biochemical in the brain. Melatonin helps your brain regulate its circadian rhythms – the natural phases that link sleep and wakefulness to night and day. It’s for this same reason that blue and white light are also important for alertness and countering seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

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What can I do about blue light?

You can avoid blue light on your iPhone by enabling Night Shift, which changes the color balance of your screen during non-daylight hours. f.lux can do the same for your computer or Android device.

You may also consider buying “computer glasses” with lenses designed to reduce reflections, cut glare and filter your screen’s blue light.

Blue-heavy screens, fluorescent lights and LED lights may tire eyes more quickly than warmer light. Experiment with what works for you by adjusting the temperature of your room lighting and digital displays.

Look at what you can do for your eye health

Do you see what I did there? Hopefully this article has given you a new vision about how to care for your eyes at home and at work. Although many of us can’t avoid screen time, we can create conditions that make viewing screens easier on our vision. Adjust your lighting and placement at work, take breaks, and avoid your phone at night to give your eyes a rest.

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This post was written by the Beacon team.

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