Do you spend most of your day on the computer? Ever work a shift where the bulk of your day is spent charting? Or maybe you use your smart phone or tablet for work, not to mention personal stuff and social media.
Whether we want to admit it or not, staring at a digital screen has become a huge part of our daily life.
We know that the light emitted from a computer screen can be fatiguing to our eyes. (Not to mention it can wreak havoc on other areas of our lives.) Anyone else come home after a long day with a headache, dry, red eyes and feeling exhausted? I’ll admit it happens to me fairly frequently.
Let’s take a minute to look into what makes digital screens different and how the light they emit can effect our eyes, our bodies, and our minds.
A little background: Light is made up of electromagnetic particles that travel in waves. The shorter the wavelength means the higher the energy of each wave. Wavelengths of light are represented by different colors and categories. Together, they make up the electromagnetic spectrum.
The human eye can see visible light. (Visible light is one portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.) Think of your basic ROY-G-BIV colors as those that make up visible light.
The blue light end of the spectrum has a shorter wavelength, and therefore a higher amount of energy, than the colors on the other end of the spectrum, such as the reds and oranges. (In case you were curious, the wavelength of blue light is about 380 nm to 500 nm).
Blue light is everywhere. We commonly encounter it via digital screens (your laptop, flatscreen tv, tablet, and smart phone). It’s even found in fluorescent light and LED lights.
Not all blue light is bad. Your body depends on the blue light from the sun (natural blue light) to help regulate your sleep-wake cycles. This same light is responsible for the beautiful blue appearance of the sky on a sunny day. Natural blue light helps boost your mood, increase awareness, and improves reaction time. Anyone else feel a bit happier and more optimistic on a bright sunny day? You can thank blue light for that!
Artificial blue light, however, like the light from our digital devices, overhead lighting, and the computer you chart on, is prone to ‘flicker’. The flickering of these short wavelengths, and bursts of light that accompany it, create glare.
So what’s wrong with glare? Being exposed to a small amount of glare, isn’t immediately problematic. When you spend more than 1-2 hours on a glare emitting device, that’s when the issues start. Glare reduces sharpness, clarity, and visual contrast. It is also responsible for eye fatigue (eye strain), blurry vision, headaches, and the mental fatigue that come from hours spent on a digital device.
Our eyes have a natural filtering ability, but it does not protect us from blue light rays. Prolonged exposure to this light, particularly artificial light, can contribute to macular degeneration and retinal damage. Both of which can lead to loss of vision.
As mentioned above, blue light can also disrupt our natural sleep wake cycles (by decreasing our ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin). It has also been linked to depression-like symptoms and other illnesses.
So how big of a problem is it? Well, eye strain (directly related to a digital device) is now more prevalent that carpal tunnel syndrome as the top computer related complaint.
In our digital world, we can’t completely avoid staring at a screen, but we can take some simple steps to help reduce eye fatigue and give your eyes a fighting chance.
Here are some ways to reduce the damage caused by hours in front of the computer or on a digital device.
Blue light blocking glasses. As mentioned above, we want to avoid this wavelength of light, and what better way than wearing glasses meant to filter blue light when you are staring at a device that emits this type of light?
- I have THESE glasses from Felix Grey (not an affiliate link) and I am wearing them in the top image of this post. You can find blue light blocking glasses almost anywhere. Amazon has some great options as well:
- If you already wear glasses, ask for a blue light coating or glaze to be applied to your existing pair. It will block the blue light, reduce glare, and decrease eye strain.
- It’s important to wear blue light blocking glasses if you are planning to be on the computer or other digital device for longer than 2 hours. I make it a habit to keep mine on my computer, so I remember to put them on as soon as I open my laptop.
Adjust brightness and color settings. This is another simple fix that is fast and easy to implement. Simply adjust your monitor or screen settings by reducing the brightness and choosing to display images in a ‘cool grey’ spectrum of colors.
- Play around with your display settings to see what color options are available. This will help decrease blue light emission from your device and ensure you go home with less eye strain at the end of the day.
- Some devices will allow you to automatically shift the colors of your display to a warmer spectrum, at a specified time. Most people choose to change to a warmer color display during the evening hours, to minimize blue light emission and decrease its effect your sleep.
- I adjusted this on my iPhone under settings, display and brightness, and then enabling the ‘night shift’ option.
Eye drops. Give your eyes a moisture boost during the day. Adding an extra drop of hydration to your eyes can help reduce redness, irritation, and fatigue. We often don’t blink as much as we should when we are staring at a screen. These drops can give your eyes the refreshing lubrication they need.
Be mindful of device position. Whether you are at work, using a standing desk or even snuggled on the couch, take note of your viewing position. There is an ideal way to position your monitor or device to reduce eye (and neck) strain as well as prevent repetitive use injury.
- Ideally, when you are using a device, your gaze should be straight ahead, with a neutral neck (no flexion or bending). The device should be high enough that your eyes naturally gaze toward the lower portion of the top third of the screen. (You want your natural gaze to be about two or three inches down from the top edge of the device or monitor on a larger device and about one inch down from the top on a smaller device like a phone or tablet.)
Take a break. Don’t forget to give your eyes a rest and stretch your eye muscles throughout the day. Set a reminder to look away from your screen every 20 mins for about 20 seconds. This may seem frequent, but it’s necessary to give your eyes a chance to refresh, refocus, and re-lubricate.
- Make it a habit to take a screen break and softly gaze at something that isn’t a blue light emitting device for 20 seconds. At the end of this screen break, take a few extra seconds to close your eyes and slowly go through a full range of motion with your eyeballs. With your eyes closed, slowly look up, and down, then left and right. I try to do these ‘eye muscle stretches’ each time I get up from my desk. (For example when I visit the restroom, break room, water cooler etc).
Take your vitamins. Be sure to take a daily vitamin with eye protective ingredients. Look for multivitamins with Vitamin A, C, E, and B as well as Zinc. You can also eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that are naturally packed with these vitamins. These elements can help protect your eyes as you age and help protect them from blue lights harmful effects.
Schedule an eye exam. This is important whether you wear contacts, glasses, or don’t use any vision correction. You want to ensure your prescription is correct and up to date. Your eyes are already working hard, and we don’t need them working overtime due to a weak or incorrect prescription.
- Yearly eye exams are also important to detect and track changes in your lens or cornea. Routine exams can alert you to the beginning of macular degeneration or retinal damage.
I hope these tips help you take better care of your eyes, especially when using a digital device. I know personally I have had fewer headaches, less eye fatigue, and I sleep better at night after implementing these strategies. I hope the same goes for you as well!
Our reliance on digital devices is not going away, so let’s make sure our eyes remain healthy and can keep seeing into the future. I’d love to hear if you found this article helpful and how you protect your eyes in the digital age!