How Screen Time Impacts Your Eye Health

How Screen Time Impacts Your Eye Health

These days, it’s virtually impossible not to spend at least a decent chunk of your day staring at a screen. Digital screen devices are so entrenched in our lives that we often don’t even realize how much we use them.

Think about it. You wake up, and invariably, one of the first things you do is look at your phone to check the time, check emails and messages, or check the weather so that you can make an informed decision about your outfit for the day. Then you go to work and stare at a computer screen for 8+ hours. You come home and spend another couple of hours watching TV. Top that off with a little social media on your phone before bed, and you’ve barely looked outside all day!

2016 report found that the average American adult spends over 10 hours consuming media each day, with the majority of this time spent looking at TVs, computers, smartphones and tablets. Not only that, surveys show that Americans check their phones on average every 12 minutes, and even preschoolersare spending between 1.8 and 2.4 hours every day staring at screens.

Unfortunately, this spells bad news for the health of our eyes, one of the most sensitive organs in the human body.

Our eyes are constantly reacting to subtle variations in light and pressure, sending and receiving this information to and from the brain in a continuous loop. The eye is designed to process visual information from constantly varying light sources and images, and is at it’s best when forced to look at different distances and wavelengths throughout the day.

But looking at backlit screens all day is the exact opposite of this. For most of our waking hours, we’re staring at a two-dimensional surface that constantly emits the same light wavelength and generally doesn’t move more than a few meters from our face.

Since screens are only a very recent development in the history of mankind, our eyes haven’t had the chance to evolve and adjust to this dramatic change in our everyday sensory input. As a result, our eyes are now experiencing a range of new problems.

What Is All That Screen Time Doing to Your Eyes?

2012 study that examined 520 New York City office workers found that 40% of workers suffered from tired eyes, with another 30% also experiencing dry eye and eye discomfort. A more recent American Optometric Association survey of 200 kids between the ages of 10-17 showed that 80% of participants suffered from eyes that burned, itched, and felt tired or blurry after using digital screen devices.

These symptoms are collectively known as computer vision syndrome (CVS). According to research, CVS affects 64%-90% of all computer users, leading to complaints of eye strain, headaches, ocular discomfort, dry eye, diplopia (double vision) and blurred vision. While all of these symptoms are temporary, over time, they can lead to degenerative conditions that impact your vision and overall eye health.

The blue light of artificially backlit screens is of particular concern. Blue light falls within the wavelength spectrum of 380-500 nm, making it one of the shortest, highest-energy wavelengths visible to the human eye. It turns out that LED screens emit light wavelengths that fall precisely within that range.

Prolonged exposure to blue light has the potential to directly damage photoreceptor cells in our eyes. This means that the more time you spend looking at computers, phones and TV screens, the more likely you are to suffer from CVS.

Luckily, there are plenty of things we can do to protect our eyes against the damaging effects of constant screen time.

Don’t Forget to Blink

This one might seem a little obvious, but you’d be surprised how little you blink when you’re staring at a screen. Studies comparing the blink rate of people looking at hard copy media (i.e. books!) or digital devices have found that digital devices cause a significantly greater reduction in blinking.

This can place strain on the eyes, so if you find yourself staring at a screen for long periods of time — blink a little! If necessary, put little reminders, like sticky notes, around your cubicle or computer screen, so that you don’t forget to perform this vital function.

Take a Break

One of the worst things you can do for your eyes is to stare at the same spot for prolonged periods of time. Eyes are designed to adjust to varying distance scales. Simply looking outside, or even across the room, gives your eyes the chance to adjust focus and process images at different distances — an exercise that’s good for your eye health.

Make a point of taking a break every 20-30 minutes. Set a reminder on your phone or computer and commit to getting up and walking around at least twice every hour. This might mean simply walking to the water cooler, making a cup of tea, or stepping outside for a breath of fresh air.

Block The Blue Light

Reducing your exposure to artificial blue light, one of the leading causes of eye strain, should be a top priority — and it’s easier than you might think.

First, consider downloading a light-reducing app for your phone, computer, and even your TV. Free apps like f.lux are designed to work in harmony with your natural circadian rhythms, emitting blue screen light during the day to simulate bright sunlight, then changing to a warmer, lower-energy wavelength of light after sunset. Not only does this limit your blue light exposure, it will also help you sleep better, since warmer light wavelengths naturally trigger your brain to release melatonin.

Another way to limit blue light exposure is to invest in some amber lenses. We say “invest”, but they’re ludicrously cheap — anything with an orange or amber tint will effectively filter out the blue light, including orange safety glasses from your local hardware store! If you’d feel silly wearing safety glasses in the office, consider forking out a little more money for transition lenses like these, which are a bit more subtle.

Our digital devices aren’t going anywhere — so we’d better learn to adapt. Making smart choices about how we relate to technology can help protect our long-term health, so that we can continue to keep up with our ever-changing world.

Reading next