Sometimes it seems like everything we do involves a device screen.
You spend your mornings catching up on the latest news from your phone. You stare your computer all day while working. If you do online workouts or ride an exercise bike, there’s another chunk of time spent in front of a screen. Then, its back to your phone to find a recipe for dinner. (By the way, some refrigerators even have screens now??) And, finally, an episode or two of your favorite show before bed.
We look at screens so much, it begs the question: Can too much screen time be at the root of your headaches?
Can you get a headache from looking at screens?
When it comes to screen time and headaches, we first need to understand eye strain.
Eye strain occurs when your eyes become fatigued after using them intensely for an extended period of time — including while looking at computer and device screens.
According to the American Optometric Society, it only takes about two consecutive hours of staring at a screen for digital eye strain to set in, which is also called computer vision syndrome.
When you stare at a screen, there's glare, you blink less and it always seems to be either too bright or not bright enough. And how close should you actually be to your screen, anyway? To make matters worse, the conditions in which we use our computers and devices aren't always ideal, including poor posture, improper room lighting and intense focus. All of these things make it challenging for your eyes to handle staring at a screen.
And while eye strain isn't a serious condition, it is uncomfortable and can lead to annoying symptoms, including those headaches you may be experiencing.
Signs and symptoms of eye strain include:
- Blurred vision
- Burning or itching eyes
- Difficulty concentrating
- Light sensitivity
- Sore and tired eyes
- Sore neck, shoulder and upper back
In addition, excess screen time can negatively affect both your sleep and mood.
This means that if you find yourself staring at screens more than usual, it's important to rest your eyes and take preventive measures to help avoid eye strain.
Tips for giving your eyes a break
Now that you know why excess screen time may be the cause of your headaches, follow these tips to ensure your eyes get enough rest:
- Follow the 20-20-20 rule. The American Optometric Society recommends taking breaks during screen time sessions. Specifically, every 20 minutes take a 20 second break to look at an object or person that's 20 feet away. If you're looking at a screen for longer than two hours, consider resting your eyes for 15 minutes.
- Take a break from your devices. It's hard, we know — but consider putting your device down and doing something else you enjoy, like walking your dog, cooking a meal or going for a walk. This is especially important if you have to be on your computer all day for work.
- Adjust the lighting. If you're working on a computer, consider dimming the lights to prevent glare.
- Keep your work desk ergonomics in check. Keep your spine in a neutral position by positioning your keyboard, monitor and mouse properly. Make sure the center of your monitor is four to five inches below your eye level and about 20 inches from your face. Your mouse and keyboard should be at a height such that your shoulders fall in a relaxed position, and avoid resting your hands on your keyboard or mouse.
- Fight dry eye with drops. Artificial tears, also called lubricating drops, can help keep your eyes fresh — preventing those dry eyes that can lead to eye strain. You can buy these eye drops in the drug store.
- Consider new eyewear. If you wear contacts or glasses and spend a lot of time in front of a screen, you may want to consider investing in lenses that filter out blue light or are designed to help prevent eye strain during computer work.