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How all that screen time is affecting your health

The world has never been brighter. A growing body of medical evidence, however, shows that the way we are regularly drawn to that abundance of artificial light impacts our health in numerous ways. An ever-increasing percentage of our daily gaze is focused on the screen. In fact, the average office worker spends two months staring at a computer every year. Factor in smartphones, tablets and more and the hours start adding up.

These screens, it must be said, provide us with entertainment and information, allowing us to be more productive and communicate with each other effortlessly. So what’s the harm, you might ask? Read on to find out… 

Computer vision syndrome

Long periods glued to the computer can take a toll on not just your eyes but your whole body, with computer vision syndrome encompassing everything from tension headaches to sore necks and back pain.  

A study by the American Optometric Association found that over a third of office workers suffer from headaches, while blurred vision and shoulder pain were also reported.

One manifestation is dry eye, brought on by a lack of blinking. The level of involvement that screen-viewing requires can reduce your blink rate from 15 times per minute to just 5 to 7, depriving your eyes of moisture. This can bring irritation, discomfort and blurred vision.

Eye strain is another optical issue. Here, pixels – the tiny dots that make up digital images – force the eyes to work harder than when reading print.

Solutions

To prevent bodily aches, sit in a proper office chair that supports the small of your back. Make a conscious effort to keep your feet planted on the ground. It is most comfortable to view a screen at 15 to 20 degrees below eye level (measured from the screen’s centre) and you should keep it some 46 to 66 cm from your face.

The 20-20-20 rule can offer eye relief: take a 20-second break every 20 minutes and focus on objects 20 ft away from you. Anti-glare screen filters and, for people who wear glasses, lenses that reduce glare can help.

Circadian disruption

The type of light emitted by our screens is also problematic. Too much light at night spins our biological clock out of time, with blue wavelengths being especially disruptive to the circadian rhythms that govern sleep. 

This blue light is actually helpful during daylight hours, boosting people’s attention, reaction and serotonin levels. However, it is also a powerful suppressant of melatonin secretion, which brings on that sleepy feeling in the evening. 

It all serves to confuse our systems when we should be preparing to power down. Screen dependency can see people still checking their news feeds when they’re in bed, exacerbating the sleepless situation.

Solutions

We’re regularly told how much nightly sleep we should be getting, but having 3 hours of relative darkness before drifting off is also advisable. This means avoiding bright screens in the hours leading up to bedtime. 

If that seems too drastic, there are widely-available apps that will filter out the blue light from your screen. Even dimming the brightness somewhat can make a difference. It’s not just what you have to avoid, either: exposing yourself to plenty of bright natural light during the day will help you sleep later on.

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