In the modern era, smartphones and computers are essential gadgets. We use them to message family and friends, scroll through social media, read news articles on unfolding global events, and watch entertaining videos to relax and unwind. So, all things considered, it’s no surprise that – in the UK alone – people spend an average of 411 minutes (e.g. just under seven hours) per day glancing at screens.
There is also no hiding that, especially in the case of office jobs, work can contribute significantly to this impressive figure. From sending multiple emails to using digital software, we rely on digital devices more than ever in our professional lives too. However, in the long run, prolonged exposure to screens can have a detrimental effect on our eyes and vision.
As a business owner or manager, one of your main responsibilities is to promote workplace wellbeing and ensure your team is as healthy as can be at all times – both mentally and physically.
With some insights from Richard Holmes, Director of Wellbeing at Westfield Health, in this article we explore the ins and outs of digital eye strain (DES), explaining how it can impact one’s health and how you can help your employees avoid its unpleasant consequences.
What is digital eye strain?
In a nutshell, digital eye strain is a type of eye fatigue that occurs if you look at a screen (i.e. computer, tablet, phone, etc.) for very long hours. Given that this is a common practice in many people’s routines, it is thought that one in two computer users (if not more) experiences DES on a regular basis.
But why does it happen? Firstly, because glancing at a screen all day tires your eye muscles. In fact, to focus the eye and allow you to see your device properly, eye muscles have to act directly on your lens. After a while, this will take a toll on your muscles, and eventually lead to eye fatigue. What’s more, looking at a digital screen can reduce your blink rate by up to 50%. Considering that blinking helps your eyes stay hydrated, any drop in its usual activity can cause a gritty, dry feeling that may, in turn, influence your vision and affect your wellbeing.
The health consequences of digital eye strain
Employees are the pulsing heart of every company, so preserving your workers’ health is always of paramount importance. As mentioned, spending long hours in front of a digital screen, whether it’s a laptop or a business phone, can have an array of unwanted consequences on your staff’s wellbeing.
So, to figure out whether digital eye strain is wearing your people, here are a few signs and symptoms you may want to look out for:
- Headaches and migraines – Digital eye strain can foster strong headaches and migraines, often triggered by the glare and light flickering on screens. A common type of headache you can get after long hours of screen exposure is the so-called ocular (or retinal) migraine, which can cause flashing and wavy lines, blind spots, and even temporary blackouts in your vision.
- Neck and back pain – While this symptom isn’t directly correlated to digital eye strain, neck and back pain is an unfortunate side effect of spending long hours in front of a screen too. Poor posture is usually to blame for this type of problem. Bear in mind that, if not fixed in a timely fashion, neck and back pain can deteriorate and become a chronic condition that requires medical attention.
- Disrupted sleep pattern – Digital screens emit blue light, which can interfere massively with your natural sleep cycle. In fact, blue light stimulates areas of the brain that make you feel awake and alert, both accelerating your heart rate and elevating your body temperature. It also suppresses the release of melatonin, a hormone that spurs feelings of drowsiness and sleepiness. Therefore, staring at screens all day – and especially up to a couple of hours before bedtime – can affect the length and quality of your sleep, meaning that you may not feel rested, refreshed, and energised the following morning.
How to prevent digital eye strain in your workers
As well as hindering their mental and physical condition, digital eye strain can also have a negative impact on your people’s efficiency and productivity levels.
In some professions, you cannot escape using tablets, phones, and computers for prolonged hours. But as a business owner or manager, you can take several simple steps to tackle the risks of digital eye strain in your employees and nip the problem in the bud.
This said, let’s have a look at a few tips you may want to take into consideration:
- Remind your employees about the importance of eye care – This is one of the quickest and easiest things you could do – and possibly one of the most effective too. Make sure to send out emails on a regular basis that remind your people about the benefits of booking appointments with an optician or ophthalmologist. If your workers’ job description includes using digital devices, it’s your duty as an employer to pay for any eyesight test they may need.
- Set up appropriate computer ergonomics – To minimise stress on your employees’ eyes, provide them with the adequate work-setting ergonomics. When it comes to preventing DES, specifically, the most important factor is the distance of the eyes from the digital screen. So, arrange your people’s workstation in a way that the computer screen (or any other digital device) is between 18 to 30 inches from their eyes.
- Encourage people to take regular screen breaks – Another simple yet excellent way to help staff reduce eye strain is to incite them to get away from their screens from time to time. Encourage them to go for a short walk, grab a cup of tea or coffee, and rest their eyes for a few minutes. It may not seem much, but brief breaks can give people the chance to refresh, blink normally, and rehydrate their eyes.
- Promote eye exercises – To help combat eye strain, you may want to introduce some eye workouts that your employees can practice throughout their workday. For example, the so-called 20:20:20 rule is a useful technique that consists in looking away from your screen every 20 minutes and focusing on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Alternatively, every so often, get your colleagues to pick a point on the floor and trace an imaginary ‘eight’ with their eyes. Both exercises can help relax eye muscles and, in turn, prevent DES.
Digital eye strain is a common side effect of spending long hours in front of a screen, and it tends to affect a large number of employees who use computers on a daily basis. From migraines to disrupted sleep cycles, DES can have a detrimental impact on people’s lives – both personal and professional.
As an employer, it’s important to take care of your people and preserve all aspects of their wellbeing. Luckily, there are several tricks you can embrace to limit the perils of digital eye strain, including promoting eye exercises, encouraging regular breaks, and setting up appropriate workstations. Ultimately, these are all handy steps that can help spare your staff from an avoidable, unpleasant issue.