Eye health

Look out!

Wherever we go we seem to be looking at a screen, in and out of work. Computer screens, ad screens, screens displaying train and bus times, phone screens, tablet screens and when it’s time to relax, TV screens too. How is so much screen time affecting our health?

The first thing we think of when talking about computer screens is our eyes. The good news is there is no evidence that looking at computers, tablets and phones can damage our eyesight, but it can make existing eye conditions worse, and it can give us eyestrain. The muscles in our eyes can get repetitive strain injury from looking too much at a screen, just like too much typing can strain muscles in our hands and wrists.

Two of the commonest causes of eye problems in the office are glare, where your eyes have to compensate for the screen looking too dark or too light because of a bright lightsource nearby, and computer screen position. Our eyes naturally look ahead and slightly downwards, so that’s where your screen should be. If you have to hold your gaze up or to the side to see the screen this puts a constant strain on your eyes, as does looking back and forth between the screen and a document you may be copying or working from.

People who look at screens a lot often suffer from dry eyes, because when you look at a screen you blink less than usual. This means the fluids normally produced by your eyes as moisturizer don’t get spread over the eyeball by the action of the eyelids as often, so it’s important to blink several times when taking a break.

And you should take a break often – every 20 minutes. To exercise your eyes, look at something in the distance for half a minute or so. That’s all it takes, but it stretches your eyes like exercise stretches your legs.

The other main way that too much screen time affects our health is through disrupting our sleep patterns. It’s the blue light of the backlit screen that causes the problem. Researchers at the Lighting Research Centre in New York found that looking at backlit screens causes a 22% drop in melatonin production, the hormone that regulates our body clock and tells us when to go to sleep. And with 80% of Brits looking at a TV, smartphone, tablet or computer screen within 2 hours of bed, an awful lot of us are affected by this, especially children and young adults.

Looking at a backlit screen makes your body think it’s bright and sunny, and that you should be up doing useful things, not settling down for the night. Disturbing this rhythm can cause brain cell changes and sleep problems.

And if you think that losing a bit of sleep isn’t that bad for you, think again. It’s estimated that more than 28 million Brits are sleep-deprived. Research suggests that women who sleep less than four hours a night are twice as likely to die of heart disease, while people who sleep less than six hours nightly are three times more likely to have high blood pressure.

It’s hard to resist checking emails, updating Facebook or watching a movie in bed, but if we must do these things we should learn to turn the brightness on the screen down, or wear amber-tinted glasses to counteract the effects of blue light.

If you look at a computer screen for more than 3 hours a day you could suffer from:

• Headaches
• Itchy, dry or watery eyes
• Blurred vision
• Difficulty focusing
• A burning sensation in your eyes

To avoid these problems, exercise your eye muscles by taking regular breaks every 20 minutes by looking at something in the distance.

 

 

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