Digital screens are all around us, providing us with entertainment, communication, work, and more. As a college student, you’ll be relying on laptops, smartphones, and tablets to research and study, and in almost any profession you choose, you’ll be staring at a digital screen most of the day so you can be more productive.
There’s no question that digital screens have become a practical necessity for modern society, but their health effects still aren’t well understood. Where, when, and how long you stare at digital screens could negatively impact your eye health, including facilitating the onset of computer vision syndrome, unless you take proactive measures to prevent it.
The Problem With Eye Strain
The biggest problem to consider is with eye strain. When you’re working at a computer, staring at a digital screen, your eyes are forced to focus and refocus at a constant rate unlike what you might experience in nature. Images on the screen change quickly, you’ll be reading text from left to right, and you’ll be dealing with effects like flicker and glare—unlike what you would experience while reading a book.
Ultimately, all this focusing and refocusing creates a repetitive strain, not unlike the kind that leads to carpal tunnel syndrome in your wrists. Eventually, your eyes will experience symptoms even when you aren’t looking at a screen, including things like strain in your eyes, headaches, blurry vision, dry eyes, and even neck and shoulder pain.
Reducing Eye Strain
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to mitigate the problem of eye strain:
- Invest in the right blinds, shades, and lighting. Changing the lighting in your immediate environment can help you reduce your need to focus and refocus on the screen. Your ambient light levels should be relatively low, so you’ll need to block out natural light with the right shades and keep your interior lighting at a lower level. You can also use “full spectrum” lighting to combat the unnatural brightness of fluorescent lights typical in most offices.
- Keep your screen a suitable distance from you. Keeping your screen too close to your eyes usually results in more strain. Try to keep your screens at least an arm’s length away from you, if not further.
- Rely on glare filters. Using glare filters, either on your screen or with corrective lenses, can prevent glare on your screen, and resolve one problem that often contributes to computer vision syndrome.
- Wear the right corrective lenses. If you’re supposed to be wearing corrective lenses but you aren’t, or if you’re wearing the wrong prescription, your eyes won’t be able to focus properly. Make sure you’re wearing the appropriate prescription.
- Take frequent breaks. Finally, and most importantly, make sure you’re taking frequent breaks from the screen. After every hour of screen time, spend a few minutes staring into the distance, preferably outside, to relax your eye muscles.
The Effects of Blue Light
You should also consider the effects of blue light on your mind and health. Most computers, tablets, and phones will, by default, emit most of their light somewhere in the blue side of the spectrum. This light often appears brighter and clearer, which is why it’s used, but it can also play tricks with your mind. Our internal rhythms and timekeeping mechanisms rely on light as an indication of time, and blue light happens to be associated with daytime. If you use blue-emitting devices late at night, then, your brain could be tricked into “believing” that it’s actually daytime, keeping you alert and preventing you from being able to sleep easily.
If this is repeated chronically, you’ll run a higher risk of sleep deprivation, which in turn can have a number of effects on your health and performance.
Reducing Blue Light
There are also measures you can take to reduce the blue light emitted by your screens:
- Avoid using devices late at night. The simplest step to take is to stop using blue-emitting devices late at night. Using them during the day will result in no issue with your sleep, so consider trading them for a book or similarly close object as you get closer to bedtime.
- Use apps and settings to tweak blue light. Most modern devices now have a “night mode” or similar setting that you can use to shift the light closer to the red end of the spectrum. If yours doesn’t have one, you may be able to use a third party app to replicate the effect.
- Maintain other good sleep habits. You can also mitigate the effects of blue light by practicing other good sleep habits, such as minimizing your consumption of caffeine, keeping lighting and noise to a minimum in your sleeping space, and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule.
Digital screens are unavoidable, but with the right strategies, you can avoid letting those screens damage your eyesight or your mental health. Technology has tremendous potential to make us more productive, but we must remember to use it responsibly, and avoid letting it compromise our physical or mental wellbeing.