You’ve had a great, lazy Saturday of binge-watching the latest show that’s got you hooked. At the same time, you’re surfing the net, checking out the latest health tips or shopping online. You’ve also just upgraded to a smartphone and are trying that out. It’s now around dinner time, and you’re feeling a headache growing.
It may sound silly considering how much we stare at screens all day, but screen-caused headaches are real. There are several reasons for this condition, sometimes known as computer vision syndrome. With so much of our daily business, personal or otherwise, done on screen these days, can you prevent that?
The first step to preventing screen headaches is finding out what causes them. Chief among these is the light emitted from your screen. Light’s links to headaches and migraines are well established. It’s a potential migraine trigger and certainly makes them worse. For your everyday, minor-but-painful headaches, blue light is often the culprit.
First, blue light can cause a host of late-night issues. This is because blue light interrupts our circadian rhythm (our sleep cycle) and suppresses melatonin output. This can lead to further sleep problems, which in turns leads to headaches.
Before smartphones, when the sun went down, the darkness signaled to our bodies that it’s time to sleep. Now, we have TVs, smartphones, and computers, which all generate blue light.
So why does it do this? Well, our bodies begin creating melatonin and sleepy-time hormones based on light. Before smartphones, when the sun went down, the darkness signaled to our bodies that it’s time to sleep. Now, we have TVs, smartphones, and computers, which all generate blue light. Even bright lamps can set us back.
Of all the different colors of light, blue light is the brightest visible to the human eye (ultraviolet is the only one that’s higher energy). It’s also one of the most prevalent in the daytime and linked with higher focus, reaction times, and a better mood.
Eyestrain is the most common reason that light and screens cause headaches, and (not surprisingly) there are many roots for this strain. Through a combination of factors, long-term exposure to electronic screens overworks your eyes. One cause is the near-constant refocusing your eyes do while browsing your screens. The closer your eyes are to the screen, the more they focus. The longer your eyes have to focus and refocus, the more strain is caused.
Researchers have also discovered that we blink less when looking at a screen. Humans tend to blink around 15 times per minute. When looking at a screen, we blink less than half that. This leads to dry, irritated eyes, since blinking distributes liquid (i.e. tears) around our eyes.
Researchers have also discovered that we blink less when looking at a screen.
Finally, although we can’t tell with the naked eye, our screens aren’t consistently lit. They’re actually flickering imperceptibly fast. Our eyes are constantly refocusing to account for this flickering which eventually leads to headaches and eyestrain.
So, we know what causes screen-headaches, but the important question is “how do you prevent it?” That’s the goal, after all. As mentioned, the distance you are from the screen affects the strain you put on your eyes. That same study suggests keeping the screen at least 16 inches away.
As for blue light, you have options. Manufacturers continue to develop different ways to lessen the strain that blue light puts on our eyes from our screens. Today, most smartphones come with a blue light filter built in. If they’re not, you can easily download an app that also does this. You can do the same for a computer screen by adjusting settings or downloading a program. Finally, you can also buy blue light filter glasses, which brings the filter wherever you go!
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The best, most straightforward way to prevent digital eyestrain is limiting your time in front of a screen. One good rule of thumb is the 20-20-20 rule. This means every 20 minutes, you take a break from looking at your screen and look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. You could also just get up and take a short break from your screen by going for a walk or reading a good book.
Electronic screens have become ubiquitous — they’re just everywhere. This makes the chances of encountering electronic screen-related eyestrain likely. By being mindful of your electronic usage or planning ahead, you can avoid the headaches and sleep issues that can come with it.