A well-documented and often popular news story is the association between screen time and rates of overweight and obesity among individuals of all ages; although children are typically a focus in the media. An area seemingly overlooked is the association between screen time and a modern-day phenomenon known as digital eyestrain.
What is contributing to the problem? Desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, e-readers, televisions, video game consoles
What are symptoms of digital eyestrain? Headaches, eye pain, redness or irritation in and around the eyes, watering eyes, double vision, difficulty focusing at a distance
What can you do to reduce your risk for digital eyestrain and improve the health of your eyes?
Step 1: Take inventory of your digital devices
- How many TVs are in your home? ____
- Is there a TV in your bedroom? ____
- How many digital devices are connected to a DVD/Blu-ray player or have live streaming capabilities (e.g., Netflix, Hulu)? ____
- How many computers/laptops are in your home? ____
- How many tablets are in your home? ____
- How many e-readers are in your home? ____
- How many smartphones do you own? ____
- How often do you use a digital device while eating a meal?
- Less than once a week: ____
- Once a week: ____
- A few times a week: ____
- At least once a day: ____
- A few times a day: ____
- Fill out the table below to determine how much time you spend using digital devices.
Time spent on a
Time spent on a
|Video game console|
Take a look at your responses to the questions in Step 1. There are 168 hours in a week. Make the following computations to determine how much time you spend using digital devices in a typical week:
- Add up the amount of time you spend per device on a typical weekday to get the weekday subtotal and multiply it by 5.
- Add up the amount of time you spend per device on a typical weekend day to get the weekend day subtotal and multiply it by 2.
- Add these two numbers to get the total average time spent using digital devices each week.
Does this number surprise you? Do you notice a relationship between the number of digital devices you have access to and how much time you spend using a digital device? Are there differences in weekday vs. weekend usage? Steps 2 and 3 provide tactics and strategies to be smarter when using digital devices.
Step 2: Tips for using digital devices
- Reduce glare by cleaning your screen to remove dust and smudges.
- Adjust the digital screen so that it is directly in front of your face and slightly below eye level.
- Increase text size to better define screen content and make it easier to read.
- Don’t forget to blink! It is easy to forget to blink when staring at a screen for prolonged periods of time. Blinking helps lubricate your eyes and stops them from feeling dry or irritated.
- Give your eyes a rest with the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look away about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds.
- At least every two hours, get up and take a short break, even if it is doing a quick lap around your home or office.
Step 3: Reduce your screen time and keep your sanity
- Create screen-free rooms, starting with removing the television from your bedroom.
- Set a limit on your screen time on weekdays and weekends.
- Focus on food and company during mealtime by turning off the television and keeping smartphones off the table.
- Set a good example for your friends and family members. Take the first step in reducing your digital device usage and they may follow suit.
- Brainstorm alternate activities that you will do instead of using digital devices. A few suggestions: take a walk, read a paperback book, play a card game or board game, pick up a new hobby, do the housework or at-home projects that you have been avoiding.
- Aim for meaningful interactions with friends and family members. Replace sending an email or text message with a phone call to see how they are doing. Strive to give the other person your undivided attention, without the TV on in the background. Social engagements are more valuable when you can hear the other person involved in the conversation.
[Emily Smith is the LHSFNA Health Promotion Division’s Wellness Coordinator.]