As material girls living in this material world, it’s hard not to wake up, immediately look at your phone, transition to your computer all day at work, then back to your phone on the commute home, then to your TV, then back to your phone before bed. Certainly, staring at luminous screens all day, every day wasn’t in the evolutionary game plan, so how bad is this relatively new, yet major lifestyle change for our eyesight? We spoke with Christopher Quinn, president of the American Optometric Association, to get the (mostly terrible) news.
What Staring at Screens Does to Your Eyes
These digital devices present two problems regarding eye health: Blue light (which we’ll touch on in just a second) and the fact that we gaze at them without blinking for long periods of time.
First, let’s talk blue light. “The high-energy, short-wavelength blue and violet light that comes from digital screens can cause eye strain, headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, eye irritation (burning and stinging), sleep disorders and in some cases, age-related vision problems,” Quinn explains. This, of course, can lead to short and long term eye damage.
As for our gazing issue, we’re not just amping up the exposure to the aforementioned damaging blue light when staring at our screens, we’re also not allowing our eyes the rest they require. “When looking at a screen, the eyes tend to work harder than usual,” Quinn explains. “This causes the eyes to strain—that’s why the level of discomfort increases with the amount of time you use a digital device.”
Speaking of time: “The average American spends seven hours a day on their digital devices, and millennials spend an average of nine,” Quinn emphasizes. Interestingly though, neither one is necessarily too much time: Everyone’s eyesight is different, so Quinn recommends visiting an ophthalmologist to find out how much screen time your eyes can handle.
How to Mitigate the Harm
Besides quitting your job and moving to a remote farm in New Zealand, there isn’t a surefire way to avoid staring at screens all day. Still, there are a few things you can do around the office (or the house) to steer clear of discomfort and to mitigate long-term damage. “The American Optometric Association (AOA) urges patients to follow the 20-20-20 rule: Take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes,” says Quinn.
You can also turn night mode on when using your phone. This is a blue light filtering feature, which eliminates harmful blue light exposure and is available on most smartphones, tablets and laptops.
Beyond that, Quinn recommends keeping a comfortable distance from your digital devices and zooming in to see small print and details. Lastly, make a point to actively blink more when using devices—that will give your eyes a chance to relax for a second, rather than straining all day long.
So there you have it: Until you step off the grid and throw your laptop into a deep ravine (if you’re into that kind of lifestyle), give your eyes a break every once in awhile. It will do wonders for your sleep schedule, your migraines, and at the very least, your ability to still see in five years or so.