For many of us, a steadily growing portion of the year 2020 has been spent inside our homes due to the coronavirus pandemic. We have sought solace, socialization and entertainment via our screens – from television-based entertainment, to games, to reading books on tablets, the digital world has been a comfortable shelter to wait out the storm. Many of us have had to work from home, moving from emails on computer screens, to family video calls, to the latest TV shows, and this amount of screen time can become a major strain on our eyes. Eye strain deriving from digital screens can disrupt sleep, cause eye discomfort, headaches, sensitivity to light, blurred vision or difficulty focusing and sore, tired, dry or watery eyes. Yet screen time is largely becoming inevitable in our day to day lives. Here are some tips on alleviating eye-strain and deterring screen-induced headaches.
Much of the problem with screen usage comes from the blue-light that these digital devices emit. According to Harvard research, blue light isn’t all bad and is actually beneficial during daylight hours but at night, this artificial light can become disruptive, especially to sleep patterns. ‘Harvard researchers and their colleagues conducted an experiment comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light to exposure to green light of comparable brightness. The blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much (3 hours vs. 1.5 hours)’ Harvard Health reported.
Studies are conflicted on whether blue light actually causes eye-strain however. Yet looking at screens for an elongated period, definitely causes irritation, but that could be because you are staring at a fixed point. One of the main techniques to alleviate this, is taking regular breaks away from the computer. The 20-20-20 rule exemplifies this, suggesting that every twenty minutes take a twenty second break to look at something twenty feet away. If you struggle to judge how far twenty feet is, try looking at a distant tree or house out of the window. It is not a bad idea either, to take intervals away from your computer screens and do something else.
Other adjustments that may help reduce eye strain, would be to reduce the glare on your computer. This can be achieved with an anti-glare or matte screen, reducing light reflections if possible – by adjusting your positioning or creating shade. Further, you can dim the brightness of your screen to a comfortable level and adjust the text size or contrast. If you wear glasses, certain coatings can reduce glare and blue light.
Many monitors now come with an option to adjust the colour temperature of your screen to reduce blue light in ‘night-mode’. If not, you can manually adjust from blue to orange/yellow tones. Also ensure that your workstation is set up comfortably, your chair is at the correct height, the screen should be situated 20 to 24 inches from your eyes and the centre of the screen should be 10 to 15 degrees below eyeline.
There are various products that are packaged to help reduce blue light, screen protectors for phones, downloadable computer applications to dim blue-light and glasses that block blue-light. If you can upgrade your screen, generally modern LCD screens are better for your eyes and some technology companies have improved their products specifically for eye-comfort and the reduction of blue light.
Blue-light blocking glasses are increasing in popularity across the market. However there is contested research as to whether they are beneficial.
A US National Institutes of Health study reported: “More than one-third of wearers found that a clear lens with a blue-filtering coating (BT lens, which all limit blue light up to 20%) provided better anti-glare performance and improved their vision for computer and mobile digital screens.” However, the UK’s College of Optometrists argued that “There is no strong evidence that blue-blocking spectacle lenses will improve visual performance, alleviate symptoms of eye strain or improve sleep quality. It is also unclear whether blue-light filtering lenses preserve macular health or alter the risks associated with the development or progression of AMD [age-related macular degeneration].”
Some people have found that blue light glasses improved their overall eye-comfort. However, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) has not found any evidence to suggest that they are beneficial, stating instead to use techniques such as the 20-20-20 rule, reduce glare and brightness and sit at the appropriate distance from your computer.
To lessen the impact blue light has on sleep, Harvard Health suggestions include:
‘Use dim red lights for night lights. Red light is less likely to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin. Avoid looking at bright screens beginning two to three hours before bed. If you work a night shift or use a lot of electronic devices at night, consider wearing blue-blocking glasses or installing an app that filters the blue/green wavelength at night.
Expose yourself to lots of bright light during the day, which will boost your ability to sleep at night, as well as your mood and alertness during daylight.’
Be sure to check in with your optician for regular eye-health check-ups.