I spend hours on end sitting at my computer. Sound familiar? Apparently, American adults spends an average of 8.5 hours/day staring at one sort of screen or another. (source)
For some reason, it still came as a surprise to me when my eyes decided to go on strike few weeks ago. Blurry vision, fatigue, light sensitivity, watery eyes, and persistent head aches – I had no choice but to shut my laptop and take a some very long breaks.
Turns out that if you stare at one distance for a long period of time, eventually the muscles of your eyes get tired and weakened. Simply by reducing my computer time, I was able to restore my vision within a couple of weeks. (source)
I was thrilled to discover that I wasn't going blind or even doing long-term damage to my vision, despite my fears that I would be banished from blogging for the sake of my health. Luckily, with some simple preventative care and common sense, I can stare at my screen til my heart's content.
Here are 6 simple tips on how to prevent computer eye strain:
#1 – Get UP and move around
This may seem obvious, but in practice it's actually more difficult than you may think.
According to a recent NIOSH study, discomfort and eye strain were significantly reduced when computer workers took regular five-minute breaks in addition to the usual scheduled breaks throughout their work day. (source) By having a little walk or stretch, you are not only giving your eyes a change of pace, but you're also taking strain off your back and neck, using your arms and legs, and encouraging blood flow throughout your body.
I installed this free “Time Out” app that automatically schedules a 10 minute break after 50 minutes of work. My screen greys, and a little meditating green figure appears on my screen.
I was surprised that after the first few days of using this app, the novelty wore off. I kept wanting to skip the breaks, negotiating with myself for ‘just a few more minutes' again and again.
I've since reduced my breaks to 5 minutes every hour and have been trying to be more disciplined about sticking with it.
#2 – Take mini-breaks
Though I couldn't find an associated study, many sources online suggest a 20-20-20 rule where serial computer users should break their computer gaze at least every 20 minutes and focus on a distant object (at least 20 feet away) for at least 20 seconds.
In addition to the hourly breaks, my new app schedules 15 second mini-breaks every 10 minutes. This is the perfect opportunity to look up from the computer screen to focus on something further away. This way the eyes don't get weakened by staring just at one distance.
#3 – Move your screen
The more tired I am, the closer my laptop seems to travel toward my face.
Turns out, the screen should be about an arm’s length away. Position the monitor so its center is 4 to 8 inches below your eyes, which allows the neck to relax while you read and type. Also, make sure to have your screen directly in front of your face, not off to the side. (source)
#4 – Adjust your font size
This is another seeming obvious solution, but worth mentioning since I can often be caught squinting at tiny text for hours before I realize it and make it bigger.
Simply by pressing ‘command' on a Mac and ‘control' on a PC and ‘+' you can instantaneously increase font on most internet browsers.
In programs like Word or Excel, you simple magnify your view by increasing the percentage in the tool bar. Easy-peasy.
#4 – Use correct lighting
Since I do my blogging from home and don't have set hours, I am often at my laptop in different locations throughout the house with varying light throughout the day. I find I'm always needing to adjust the brightness of my screen.
The rule of thumb I've found is this: “Adjust the brightness of the display so it's approximately the same as the brightness of your surrounding workstation. As a test, look at the white background of this Web page. If it looks like a light source, it's too bright. If it seems dull and gray, it may be too dark.” (source)
#5 – Get the right eyewear
It should go without saying that it's a good idea to have regular eye exams, especially if you're experiencing problems with your vision.
That said, sometimes all that's needed is a simple pair of reading glasses that ever so slightly magnify vision up close. You can buy these at a regular pharmacy – just make sure to try out the different strengths to find the best one for your eyes.
Having recently had an eye exam, I learned that while I have very slight nearsightedness (I wear contact lenses for driving and seeing things afar), my reading vision is 20-20. Even the weakest reading glasses made everything blurry for me.
These super cool Gunnar computer fatigue glasses have a slight amber tint to the anti-glare lenses that “filter out the harsh, high-energy part of the spectrum and creates a more relaxed viewing experience to help your eyes focus more naturally.”
For me, my Gunnars seem to be the most useful for preventing computer eye strain during the day, whereas, at night-time, I'm best off just shutting off the screens at the first sign of eye fatigue.
#6 – Eat for optimal eye health
If you want to prevent computer eye strain it's a good idea to make sure you're fueling your body with foods that will help your eyes to function properly and reduce any inflammation from stress and overuse – omega-3 fatty acids, fat soluble vitamins A and D, and anti-oxidants top the list of essential nutrients. (source)
My top 5 foods for eye health:
- Fish oils – In addition to omega 3's, minimally processed cod liver oil is rich in fat soluble vitamins A & D. Read more about cod liver oil here. Krill oil contains astaxanthin – an antioxidant that is great for eye health.
- Oysters are rich in zinc and fat soluble vitamins – One more great reason to eat my favorite food!
- Liver provides true vitamin A, here are my favorite ways to eat this commonly despised food.
- Egg yolks from pasture raised-hens contain lutein, an important carotenoid nutrient for eyes.
- An array of seasonal fruit and vegetables provide anti-oxidants which help to reduce cell damage.
Finally, this should go without saying, but if you're still consuming aspartame or smoking cigarettes, both of these things are horrible for eye health. Additionally antibiotics, birth control pills, blood pressure medication, diuretics, and diabetic medications can be detrimental to vision too.
Time for my 5 minute break… Gotta go!
Have you suffered from computer eye strain? What's helped?