There are ways to minimise screen fatigue, aside from just flat out reducing your screen usage.
You’re looking at a glowing screen right now, as you read this. That's the first step towards screen fatigue.
And after that, you’ll read an email on the same device, you’ll check the weather, send a few texts, check Instagram, then more emails, then Facebook, then you’ll read an article, then you’ll actually do some work, with a few more distractions peppered in.
Later, before bed, you’ll shuffle through these things again, in between Netflix shows.
Like the rest of us, you’re basically that little girl from The Poltergeist, staring blankly into the depths of a glowing screen, entranced—and trapped—by it. All that screen time is causing something called “digital eye strain”, says Dr. Jessica Lee, Retina Surgeon at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai.
“Digital eye strain has become increasingly more common from hours of staring at computers and phones all day,” she says, noting that symptoms of such strain include dryness, blurry vision, redness, and irritation. But it doesn’t stop there: “Some research has linked too much blue light exposure—particularly at night—to insomnia because the blue-light sensitive molecules in the retina are also responsible for setting our body's circadian rhythm,” Lee says. “Excessive blue-light exposure can suppress the release of melatonin, the hormone that helps set our sleep-wake cycle, which can in turn disrupt our sleep patterns, thus exacerbating eye strain.”
But there are ways to minimise screen fatigue, aside from just flat out reducing your screen usage (how dare we suggest that!). Lee offers a few pointers:
Look Away from the Damn Screen, Every Now and Then
“We as ophthalmologists recommend following the ‘20-20-20 rule’,” Lee says. “Look away from the screen every 20 minutes, at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds or more. This will help the eye muscles relax and help prevent symptoms of eye strain from excessive screen time.
Make Your Text Bigger
Lee also suggests increasing the text size on your devices, so that you aren’t squinting so much to read each little letter.
Literally Just Blink
This will keep your eyes lubricated. “Some doctors even suggest posting a note that says ‘BLINK!’ on the computer as a reminder,” Lee says. This is because you standard blink rate is about 15-20 time per minute, but this dramatically decreases “by up to half” when staring at a screen, says Lee. “If the eyes still feel dry, try using artificial tears to hydrate.”
Dim the Screen!
Especially at night. That brightness is one of the biggest offenders.
“Turning down the brightness—to the point where one can still see clearly—can help minimize the discomfort of nighttime screen viewing,” Lee says. “Some researchers recommend limiting exposure to blue light or screen time approximately an hour before going to bed to minimize any disruptions in our sleep cycle.”
Your phone most likely has a nighttime dimming mode, while apps like f.lux do the same on your computer at a pre-set time every night. If you wear glasses, get a pair of blue-light filtering specs—EyeBuyDirect keeps a stylish supply with a “Digital Screen Protection” option that filters the harmful lights—which should send you to bed sans sleeping pill for once and for all.
Change Your Contacts
If you don’t replace your contact lenses frequently enough, this can multiply digital strain.
“Over-wearing one's contact lenses can lead to a wide range of problems,” Lee says. “The most serious being a potentially blinding corneal ulcer or a corneal infection. A more common problem from contact lens overwear is that the eyes are deprived of sufficient oxygen supply which can exacerbate any symptoms of dryness and irritation from increased screen time.”
If you don’t trust yourself to do this frequently enough, try a lens subscription service like Hubble that will handle the replacements for you at pre-set intervals.
Get Your Prescription Updated (or Customised)
“Make sure you’re using the correct prescriptive glasses or contact lenses,” Lee urges. (Why have a prescription at all if it isn’t going to make your vision 20/20?) “Some people opt to customise a pair of contact lenses or eyeglasses prescription specifically for screen use, since it primarily requires use of our ‘intermediate’ vision,” she says.