I have always loved to read and write, so graduate school seemed like the perfect fit for me, but year two as a grad student has also proved challenging in this regard. The problem is that most of my reading this year is done on a computer screen rather than on paper. While viewing articles on the computer instead of printing them out is great for the environment, it can wreak havoc on your health.
Most people suffer from computer eye strain due to overusing or misusing computer monitors, bad lighting, or other environmental factors. Computer eye strain can cause burning or dryness in your eyes, blurred vision, neck pain, and headaches. These symptoms can cause physical discomfort, fatigue, and significantly cut your productivity. A lack of productivity is something you cannot afford as a graduate student with a thesis to write, especially in week 10!
There are many suggestions to reduce computer eye strain on the web, but here are a few quick suggestions that I find to be the easiest and most effective adjustments for a busy student.
- Light Your Workspace Properly– Bright light and overhead lights are hard on your eyes, so try using table lamps that are off to the side of your computer screen if possible. Adjust window blinds so that the sun is not falling directly on your monitor. Fluorescent lights are tough on your eyes, so if you are forced to work in a space with heavy lighting like the library, adjust your monitor to reduce glare on the screen.
- Adjust Your Computer Display Settings- Adjust the brightness of the monitor so it’s about the same as your surrounding area. If your screen looks like a light source, it’s too bright. If it looks dull, it’s too dark. Find the text size and contrast that is most comfortable. Black print on a white background is recommended. Optometrists also recommend keeping the monitor 20-30 inches from your eyes, or about an arm’s length. Text should be more clear and readable from this distance.
- Exercise Your Eyes- My optometrist and many others recommend the 20-20-20 rule to reduce the risk of tiring your eyes by staring at a monitor too long. You should look away from your screen every 20 minutes and focus on an object at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
- Blink Your Eyes Often- People blink about five times less than normal when looking at a computer screen. Tears evaporate more quickly during long sessions of non-blinking, especially in dry work environments, causing dry eyes. To reduce dry eyes, blink 10 times every 20 minutes at a very slow pace, as if you’re falling asleep. This will help keep your eyes lubricated. I also use gel eye drops, which have really helped me with the dry, burning sensation from computer strain.
- Take Frequent Breaks- I have found this to be the most effective method of reducing computer eye strain and keeping me focused and productive. Take a break at least once an hour and do a few stretches that will relieve neck and shoulder pain. There are many examples on the web. Set small goals for yourself and take a break as a reward. This will make your work seem more manageable and reduce your stress level while keeping your physical well-being intact.