Dishing on Digital Eyestrain

Dishing on Digital Eyestrain

Most Americans get about seven hours of sleep each night. So what are we doing with the other 17 hours a day? For many of us, a lot of those hours are spent looking at a screen – and not just computer screens at work.

The growing use of smartphones mean more of us are wired for larger chunks of each day. A 2021 survey by PEW Research Center reveals that 85% of Americans are online in some form every day. About 31% (three in 10 people) say they’re online almost constantly.

The Vision Council’s leaving site icon latest Digital Eyestrain Report confirms the trend. It shows nearly 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 screens leads to digital eye strain. Despite the widespread use of digital devices, many American adults don’t even know what digital eye strain is. Still, when asked, nearly six out of 10 Americans say they experience its symptoms.

Symptoms can include:

  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Headaches
  • Eye strain
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry eyes

It’s not uncommon to start feeling discomfort after two or more hours staring at a device. Symptoms are usually temporary, but long-term effects are possible.

There’s another danger, too. Consistent exposure to high-energy visible light (HEV) – or blue light – has been linked to age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.

What Can You Do to Reduce Digital Eyestrain?

For many of us, technology is a major part of our jobs and daily lives. Despite this reality, here are tips to help reduce eye 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 improve your ability to work more efficiently and help 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 with your feet flat on the floor.

Make the brightness of your screen match the light level in the room. Use an antiglare display, and keep your screen 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 persist when you’re not in front of a screen, visit an ophthalmologist.

Your eye doctor may also suggest changes to your screen setup and other solutions. For example, some computer glasses can help reduce eyestrain and prevent harmful blue light from penetrating your eyes.

Losing Shut-Eye?

Your digital device might be to blame if you have 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.

Keep an Eye on Your Kids

Limit computer use and other screen time for children. They’re less likely to take screen breaks or notice discomfort and other symptoms of computer vision problems.

The American Academy of Pediatrics leaving site icon 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?

Source: About three-in-ten U.S. Adults Say They Are ‘Almost’ Constantly Online, leaving site icon PEW Research Center, 2021; The Vision Council Shines a Light on Protecting Sight and Health in a Multi-Screen Era, leaving site icon  The Vision Council, 2019; How Does Technology Affect Sleep, leaving site icon, 2022; Media and Children, leaving site icon American Academy of Pediatrics, 2021

Originally published 3/8/2016; Revised 2021, 2023