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Avoiding Eye Strain

Next up I offer tips for reducing eye strain while using your computer.  Staring at a computer monitor places a lot of extra demand on your eyes, and the only way to stop this is to stop using your computer.  But I realize that’s probably impossible to do.  For most of us, computers have gone from a part-time source of information and entertainment to a full-time necessity of life.

What’s important to know before I start is that the advice I’m about to give is good advice to follow no matter how much time you spend at your computer.  Even if you think your computer monitor is optimally set up, it never hurts to take a few minutes to double check your measurements and settings.

Okay, let’s start with monitor placement.  Most importantly, your computer monitor should be positioned directly in front of you.  Having it off to one side or the other causes your neck to twist unnecessarily and could cause unnecessary tension and headaches.

With your monitor directly in front of you, let’s next check the distance from your eyes.

The ideal position of your computer monitor is anywhere between 20 inches and 26 inches in front of your eyes, or about two feet.  Here’s a way to help visualize the distance.

Sit in your chair as you normally would when working on the computer, stretch your arm out in front of you, and extend your index finger.  When finished, the tip of your finger should touch the computer screen.

If the computer monitor is too close or too far away from your eyes, you may be squinting or straining your eyes in an effort to see the screen.  As I’ve said before, neither is good for your vision.  If having the monitor closer or further away is the only way you can see it, guess what?  You need to heed my previous advice and get yourself to the eye doctor right away!

If you already wear glasses or contacts and you still have trouble seeing the computer screen when positioned at the ideal distance of 20 to 26 inches away from your eyes, you may need a new prescription.  A quick visit to the eye doctor will take care of that too!

Now let’s talk about the height of your computer monitor.  You can’t assume that plopping your monitor on top of your desk means it’s at the correct height to reduce eye strain.  The ideal position is one that doesn’t cause your neck to tilt upwards or down in order to see what’s on the screen.  A monitor that’s too high or too low not only causes eye strain, it can cause a sore back and shoulders.

If the monitor is not at the right height, you can try adjusting your chair height.  Or you can place your computer monitor on top of something stable so you can raise the monitor to a more appropriate level.

Now let’s play around with the settings on your monitor.  If you don’t feel comfortable doing this or don’t know how, it’s probably a good idea to ask for help.  First let’s see if the monitor refresh rate needs adjusting.  The refresh rate has to do with the speed at which the pixels on the monitor screen repaint.  A higher refresh rate creates a smoother appearance when objects are in motion.  Slower speeds create a more smear-like appearance.  The ideal refresh rate range is a minimum of 75 Hertz.  Anything slower tends to increase the likelihood of eye strain.

Now look at the computer screen’s brightness and contrast.  If it appears too bright, tone down the brightness and/or contrast as necessary.  The goal is to adjust these settings so they closely match what you’re used to when reading.

You can also tweak other monitor settings as necessary so that the text that displays on the screen is easier to read.  You can try changing things like your browser’s text size, your screen’s resolution, the zoom default and the font defaults until you find a combination that works best for you.

If you work with documents and you don’t already have one, invest in a document holder.  You’ll find ones you can attach right to your computer monitor.  You’ll also find ones that look like mini easels.  It doesn’t matter which type you choose.  The main goal is to get the document off your desk and up to eye level.  With your documents at eye level your eyes no longer have to repeatedly look down at your desk and back up to your screen as you do your work.  Such repetitive motion is extremely tiring and usually leads to eye strain.

Once you have your computer monitor set up to reduce eye strain, take another look around and see if you notice any new sources of glare.  As I mentioned already, glare is a major cause of eye strain.  To avoid it, it’s important to maintain balance between the light behind the monitor and the light that appears on the monitor.  Diffuse or eliminate direct or indirect light in front of your computer monitor as well as that which comes from behind.  If all else fails and you still have glare, it’s time to consider attaching a glare shield to the front of your monitor.

Finally, give your eyes a break!  When your eyes are focused on your computer screen, they don’t blink as often and the surfaces get more exposure to air.  As a result, they get drier and the muscles have to work harder to keep the eyes open and focused on the screen.  Taking brief but regular breaks do your eyes a whole lot of good.  Try it and you’ll see.

Here’s all you have to do.

About every 15 to 20 minutes, look away from your computer monitor.  Focus your vision on something in the distance that’s about 20 feet away.  Keep your focus for at least 20 seconds and as long as 2 minutes.  The break sequence is easy to remember if you think of it as the 20-20-20 rule.

A simple eye break like this taken throughout the day allows the eye muscles time to relax.  And when they’re relaxed, they’re less likely to become strained.  It’s also a good idea to spend a few seconds during each break blinking your eyes very quickly.  Doing so helps moisten your eyes and clears dust from the surfaces.

Just remember, you need to focus on the object in the distance.  So don’t move your eyes around.  Doing so defeats the whole purpose of the eye break.  When your break’s over, go ahead and return your eyes to your monitor and be sure to repeat the break sequence in another 20 minutes and 20 minutes after that.  Continue practicing the 20-20-20 break the entire time you’re working on your computer.  If you have to, set a timer to remind you when it’s time for another break.

I have one more piece of advice to give you about computer breaks.  Every half-hour to hour, try giving your entire body a brief break.  Get up from your desk. Walk around a bit; maybe go grab some water or a healthy snack.  While away from your desk, stretch your arms and your legs, your fingers and whatever else feels like it needs a stretch.  Then go back to your desk and resume your work.

Once you get in the habit of taking eye breaks and body breaks, your eyes will feel less strained and your body overall will feel less tired.  And as I said in the beginning of this post, when you feel less tired, chances are you’ll be more productive!

Next I’m going to talk about everybody’s favorite topic:  Exercise!

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