What happens to the eyes and eyesight when looking at a screen?

You are feeling motivated to work on your laptop behind your (home)desk. Because you are engaged in an important task such as writing a monthly report, completing that excel spreadsheet for an important meeting or finishing an team assignment. You want to be sure that what the work you deliver is correct, complete and above all, flawless. That is why you are very concentrated. You make an effort to place all your focus on this task. And then it happens. At first you don’t notice it. So you work steady onwards. But at a certain point you can no longer ignore it: it burns, it stings, it is red. Your eyes are overstimulated. Tired of the effort of looking at the screen.

What is the effect of screen time on the eyes?

There is a more then 70% change you are using your phone right now to read this article. We check our smartphone on average 221 times a day. A study by CBS shows that we spend an average of 15 hours per week behind a computer screen. That is on top of the screen time of a smartphone.

And those numbers are going up rapidly in the digital age we live in nowadays. Frequently looking at a screen has an effect on the eyes; dry, watery, irritated eyes and even an decrease of eye sight can occur. But why do the eyes react to screen time that way and how can we avoid eye complaints?

Why the eyes react when looking at a screen

When working concentrated we focus all our attention on the screen. When being engaged in a screen activity, we forget to blink. We blink the eyes 50% less then we normally would when looking at a screen. Even in our spare time we blink half as much when watching a movie or scrolling through social media. Blinking less also reduces the natural moisture in the eyes, which causes redness.

And working many hours behind a screen, for example a laptop, tablet, telephone or desktop, has an effect on the quality of your eye sight. We tend to exceed the duration of time the eyes are able to look at a screen and that has an effect on the muscles in the eyes. They become more stiff which can give the feeling of fatigue. Working continuously behind a screen can in the long run decrease your vision and as a result glasses may be needed.

Fortunately, many of these complaints can be prevented in relatively little time and with little effort.

How to prevent eye complaints effectively

The answer is of course obvious: reducing screen time. But if you are an ambitious office worker, that’s not the answer you’re looking for. Simply because you need a screen to complete your tasks. How to work around that? Doctors and scientist advice to take breaks regularly, preferably every 30 or 60 minutes. Taking a break means literally looking away from the screen. That helps the eyes to relax.

Now just looking away is not enough. Combining a break with an eye exercise is the most effective according to research. Not only does it keep the eyes healthier, improve the eye sight but it also increases your productivity. There are many eye exercises and the four most effective can be found in the video below.

The back-up plan for the eyes

Although you might try to take breaks regularly and do eye exercises, on some days it can be challenging to bring yourself to do it. Sometimes work days turn out differently than planned leaving no time for a quick eye exercise. For those days this exercise can be your back-up plan. It revitalizes the eyes effectively after a (long) day of work.

  • Take a bowl of hot water and another of cold water.
  • Dip and lightly squeeze one washcloth or cotton pad in each bowl.
  • First, place the hot compress on your eyes and eyebrows. Feel the warmth and savour it for about 5 seconds and then switch to the cold compress for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat at least 5 times to revitalize the eyes.

The yearly amount of screen time your eyes get

That the eyes get overstimulated is not surprising considering the amount of time we spent looking at screens. The average active screen time on a phone is between 90 and 160 minutes per day. Converting 90 minutes of screen time on a telephone is a total of 23 days of 24 hours per year. At 160 minutes that is 40 days a year. None stop, on your phone.  
On top of that comes the screen time behind a computer of 15 hours per week on average. Making a total of 72 days of 24 hours on stop screen time per year. About 19,7% of a year we look at screens no stop.

Perhaps reading these numbers motivate to take screen time breaks regularly to keep the eyes healthy and uphold productivity. When interested in reducing your screen time these six strategies will help you out.

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