Since being confined to our homes, including an increase in telework, we all seem to be spending a lot more time with our eyes focused on screens. All this extra screen time can cause health issues, including eye strain, neck and shoulder problems, and changes in sleep, concentration, and mental alertness.
We can’t always limit screen time, but there are ways to mitigate the negative effects. Here are some suggestions.
- The 20/20/20 Rule. Research shows that we need to give our eyes regular breaks. Every 20 minutes, look away from the screen and focus on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This allows your eyes to relax and refocus, easing strain on the eye muscles.
- Take a Break. Every hour, take a 5 – 10 minute break. Get away from the computer or television and walk around. Stretch your back and neck, swing your arms, and move. If you tend to forget to take breaks, set a timer on your computer to remind you every hour.
- Sunlight, Greenery, and Nature. Several times a day, schedule a longer break of at least 20 minutes and get outside. Even walking around your own yard counts! Feel the sun, breathe in fresh air, and let your eyes linger on plants, trees, and flowers. Research studies indicate that greenery restores attention by engaging our eyes while simultaneously calming our nervous system, inducing a state of “calm alertness.”
- Hydrate. Staring at a screen dries your eyes out, since you tend to not blink as often. Keep hydrated on several levels. First, drink lots of water to keep your entire body functioning properly. Second, use OTC eye drops to refresh and lubricate your eyes. Third, make sure the area of your house that you’re using has adequate humidity. If necessary, use a humidifier to increase the amount of moisture in the air.
- Adjust Your Monitor. Make sure your computer monitor is set properly. For optimal comfort, your monitor should be 20-30 inches away from your eyes and the top of your monitor should be at eye level. In addition, too much artificial or natural light creates monitor glare that can quickly tire your eyes. If possible, turn off harsh fluorescent lights and position your computer so that any natural light is coming in on either side of your monitor.
- Tone Down Screen Brightness. According to the AMA, NIH, and other researchers, using screens at night can upset your circadian rhythms and cause sleep disturbances. The blue light emitted from monitors and screens reduces the creation of melatonin and has been linked to depression, impaired daytime functioning, obesity, and other health issues. There’s a great free program called f.lux to help with this. It makes the color of your computer's display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day. This will help block some of the melatonin-suppressing blue light.
We hope these easy and inexpensive steps help you protect your eyes and experience less dry eye discomfort. Here’s to your good health!