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The Vision Council’s 2019 Digital Eyestrain Report reveals that close to 80 percent of adults report using digital devices for two or more hours a day. Nearly 55 percent say they look at some type of screen within the first hour they’re awake. And a whopping 80 percent admit they use digital devices in the hour just before they go to sleep.
Spending so much time staring at computer monitors, laptops, tablets and smartphones leads to digital eye strain -- the physical discomfort felt after prolonged exposure to a digital screen. Despite the widespread use of digital devices, the latest annual Vision Watch survey reports that 49 percent of American adults say they don’t even know what digital eye strain is. Still, when asked, nearly six out of 10 Americans admit they experience symptoms of digital eye strain.
Symptoms can include:
It’s not uncommon to start experiencing this discomfort after spending two or more hours staring at a device. Symptoms of digital eye strain are usually temporary, but long-term effects are possible.
In addition to eyestrain, the Vision Council’s report points out another danger: Consistent exposure to high-energy visible light (HEV), or blue light, may be linked to long-term vision issues such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
For many people, technology is a major part of our jobs and daily lives. What can we do to help lessen the strain?
Try the 20/20/20 rule. After looking at a computer or other digital device for 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This quick break can actually improve your ability to work more efficiently and helps to prevent eyestrain.
Be screen smart. Move your computer monitor so you are about 25 inches away from the screen. Adjust your monitor and seat height so you can look slightly down at the screen, and place your feet flat on the floor.
With any digital device, the brightness of your screen should match the light level in the room. Use an antiglare display when possible, and keep it clean and dust-free. Adjust the screen’s contrast so text appears clear and bright against the background.
See an eye doctor. Uncorrected vision problems put extra strain on your eyes. Wear your glasses or contacts. If vision problems don’t go away when you’re not in front of a screen, visit an ophthalmologist. You might have a vision condition that needs treatment.
Your eye doctor can also suggest changes to your screen setup and other solutions. For example, some computer eyewear may help reduce eyestrain and prevent harmful blue light from penetrating your eyes.
Your digital device might also be to blame if you are having trouble sleeping. Using mobile phones, e-readers, tablets, laptops and other devices before bed can affect the quality and quantity of your sleep. They give off light that can shift circadian rhythms and the production of melatonin – a hormone that regulates sleep. Avoid using light-emitting devices for at least an hour before your bedtime. Read a print book or newspaper instead.
It is important to limit computer use and other screen time for children. They are less likely to take a needed break or even notice discomfort or other symptoms associated with computer vision problems.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than two not use digital media devices. They also recommend that older children's screen time be limited to no more than one or two hours a day.
Do you have your eye on good vision? What's your secret to a good night's sleep in our digital world?
Originally published 3/8/2016; Revised 2021
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