How to Avoid Screen Fatigue + Digital Eye Strain

With most of our days spent glued to our screens, many of us are starting to notice just how hard our eyes are working. If your screen time has gone up, and you’ve been experiencing dry eyes, headaches, fatigue, and other symptoms it might be due to “screen fatigue”. With remote work, constant check-ins for social media, screen fatigue is becoming more and more common. Read more to learn about what it is and how you can avoid it!

What is “Screen Fatigue”?

Also known as “digital eyestrain” by the American Optometric Association, it’s caused by looking at screens for 2+ hours at a time. Doing this for several days in a row, or daily, can cause the most eyestrain. Some symptoms may include dry eyes, blurred vision, headaches, soreness, difficultly concentrating, and others. 

Still, not all light is equal. The blue light emitting from electronics can be detrimental to both sleep and melatonin production. While in general, any light can suppress the production of melatonin, a Harvard study found that blue light does it more powerfully. Blue light is beneficial during the day when you need to be productive, but not during bedtime. By repressing melatonin production, it also disrupts your circadian rhythm, throwing your sleep schedule off. 

Apple Macbook sitting on pillows of a bed with white bed sheets.

Image by @josefinehj

How do I Avoid Screen Fatigue?
Being in the midst of a quarantine summer and everything remote, it’s understandable that taking a break from your phone or laptop isn’t the easiest task. While cutting out screen time is the best solution, here are a few ways to prevent or lessen screen fatigue:

20-20-20 Rule
For every 20 minutes that is spent staring at a screen, look at something that is 20 feet away, for 20 seconds. You may not know what 20 feet looks like, but the key is to look at something far away from you. Recommended both by the American Optometric Association and the American Academy of Ophthalmology, this method is a good reminder to give your eyes a break during screen time!

Traditional eye chart test with black lettering and displaying 20/200 to 20/20 vision.

Phone Settings to Prevent Blue Light
Many devices with screens have options to adjust the brightness and color contrast for users. Many devices call this “Night Shift”, “Night Light”, or some name variation. Whatever name it’s under, the feature’s purpose is to remove the blue light spectrum from your phone. In turn, this gives the device’s display a warmer, more yellow hue to it.

You can also change the settings to automatically turn this on at night when it starts to get darker. However, you can turn this on whenever your eyes are feeling strained! Explore the settings of your device to find where you can change this.

Business Insider image of iPhone on settings screen with the toggle turning on Night Shift.

Image by Business Insider

Glasses that Protect from Blue Light
If you like the look of glasses, you can try out glasses that are specifically designed to block out blue light. Due to the high demand, many brands have come out with these blue-light-blocking glasses! Consider how often you’ll wear them, what style you want, what do you mostly do on your screen, and other factors before committing to a pair.

Felix Grey specifically works to design glasses that block blue light and eliminate glare. Not only are they good for your eyes, but they’ve got a variety of cute frames!

Beagle mix dog wearing brown glasses, sitting in a leather chair, in front of journal and pen.

Image by @tilly_thebeaglemix and @felixgrays

Remember to Blink
Blinking isn’t something we normally think about, but on average, we blink about 15 times per minute. Studies show, however, that when we’re on our digital devices, that number decreases to 5 to 7 times in a minute. We blink to keep our eyes from drying out, which is why many of those that experience screen fatigue also experience dry eyes or blurred vision.

While reminding yourself to blink isn’t the most natural thing to do, it’s an easy way to prevent screen fatigue. You can try leaving a post-it note on your laptop to remind you, or whenever you’re waiting for something to load you can use that time to blink!

Gif of a white loading circle in front of a black background.

Gif by Quartz

Position Your Screen Correctly
As recommended by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, when you’re using your computer, try to be at an arm’s length away. When we get too focused on our work, we tend to move closer to the screen. Remember to maintain distance, and position your screen so your eyes are slightly downward, not straight ahead.

Overview of person using a white Macbook and an open book.

Image by @sefi.rose

Avoid Screens At Night
While there are many things you can do while you’re using your screen to avoid screen fatigue, the best way to avoid it is to give your eyes and devices a break. Not only does this give your chance for your eyes to be away from blue light, but it can also help maintain melatonin production and regulate your sleep schedule.

Some social media apps (including Instagram and Tik Tok) can help you cap your usage on their app. Your phone might also enable you to lock yourself out of certain apps during bedtime, so continue to explore your settings to help you set your boundaries. Aim to turn off screens at least 3 hours before bedtime!

Woman in the dark, in bed, on her phone with a laptop open beside them.

Image by Tommaso Del Croce  

How can I Avoid Screens Altogether?
As mentioned in the last tip, if you really want to protect yourself from the harmful effects of blue light and screen fatigue, you need to take some time away from screens altogether. This is called a "digital detox". We wrote a few articles about “How to do a Digital Detox” and “4 Steps to a Successful Digitial Detox Weekend”. Try it out, your screen time will thank you!