An Unforeseen Victim of the Pandemic Shutdown

Netflix is having a great year...

Thanks to lockdowns around the globe, Netflix added more than 15 million new subscribers during its first quarter. As people continue to stay home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, our screen time is higher than ever.

And while this is good for video-streaming services like Netflix, it isn't good for our health.

According to a 2018 study, Americans spent more than 12 hours a day in front of some type of screen – computers, e-readers, televisions, or cell phones.

And while we don't have cumulative numbers for 2020 yet, ophthalmologists peg it much, much higher. We wouldn't be surprised to see that number closer to 15 hours a day... or more.

Take a moment and think about your normal daily routine. All these actions add up. How many of the following do you do?

  • Wake up and check your e-mails, social media, and the news
  • Turn on the TV and stream your morning workout
  • Sit in front of the computer for your workday
  • Watch a video on your phone during lunch
  • Play games on your phone to kill time
  • Facetime your kids or grandkids
  • Watch TV after dinner
  • Read on your tablet before bed

Ophthalmologists report that more and more patients make appointments for blurred vision and headaches. These are two of the most common complaints for eye strain and something called computer vision syndrome ("CVS").

The main culprit with screens is blue light. You might remember that we've warned about blue light before because it interrupts our circadian rhythms, causing insomnia. But blue light also causes eye strain and could even lead to permanent eye damage over time.

Other factors contribute to CVS, too, including glare, poor posture, and underlying vision problems like farsightedness or astigmatism.

If you're like the members of our team, you might feel the effects of too much screen time. That's why we're revisiting our best tips to keep your eyes clear and healthy.

1. Have a good balance between the light from your display screen and ambient light. Fluorescent bulbs and too many outside windows can cause an annoying glare. If you can't adjust these much, try an anti-glare coating for your screen.

2. Adjust the display on your screen. Do what I do and play with the contrast, brightness, and resolution based on the ambient light until you're comfortable. You can also change your refresh rate (see our "What We're Reading" section for links on how to do so).

3. Change the color temperature of your screen or even add a blue-light filter. This helps cut some blue light. Newer machines now come with blue-light filters, often called "night shift" or "night light." I have my screens automatically go to blue filters at around one hour after sunset. In the summertime, I set them to start at 9 p.m.

4. Pay attention to how you sit. Here are some basics for good computer posture:

  • Your eyes should be about three feet away from the screen.
  • The middle of the screen should be about six inches below eye level. Have a friend or spouse check you out to see that you're at the right height.
  • Keep proper posture with a good, supportive chair.
  • Your elbow joint should be about 90 degrees while you use the keyboard. And use a wrist rest.

5. Blink more. Another reason we feel eye strain is from dryness. It turns out that almost everyone blinks much less when we stare at a screen or intently read things. In fact, it's about one-third as often as our usual blinking rate (which is about 10 blinks per minute). We're simply not meant to stare in concentration for long periods. Set an alert for every 15 minutes or so to remind yourself to blink.

6. Follow the "20-20-20 rule." Every 20 minutes, look at an object 20 feet away or more, for at least 20 seconds. Looking away gives a break to the muscles that focus on objects up close. It's something my researcher uses with success. And doing it daily and often, like I do, can keep your eyes "in shape" and prolong the natural ability to see without glasses.

7. Get your natural sunlight. In addition to sunshine helping our skin make vitamin D, it also helps our brains. That's because sunlight triggers changes in our body through the receptors in our eyes. Sunlight hitting these receptors keeps our circadian rhythm on a regular cycle. It also makes serotonin, our happiness brain chemical.

So getting sunlight will help you feel more relaxed and more in tune with a healthy sleep cycle. There's also some evidence that natural light helps prevent nearsightedness in children, so be sure to take the kids or grandkids for a short walk to get the most benefits.

Taking care of your eyes sooner will keep them healthier in the long term. Try out these seven tips and see if you notice improvement. If you don't, or if there's any history of eye disease in the family, make sure to get a thorough eye exam. Getting an exam every once in a while is important to check for vision problems, especially if you have diabetes or a family history of glaucoma.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
July 28, 2020