By Michelle Waitzman
Working in front of a computer monitor all day, as most editors do, takes a toll on your eyes. Here are some tips on how to reduce the eye strain that can lead to fatigue, headaches, dry eyes, and loss of concentration.
Beware of Glare
Glare is caused by light reflecting off your monitor and into your eyes. It can come from your windows or from light fixtures and lamps. Glare makes it harder to read your documents, reduces contrast, and can reflect bright spots into your eyes causing you to squint. It’s best to reduce glare at the source, but if that isn’t possible you can purchase an anti-glare screen to attach to your monitor.
Glare from daylight can usually be fixed by moving your monitor to a better position. Your monitor should be perpendicular to the window in the room, so that the daylight hits it from the side. Placing your monitor in front of the window will cause the backlighting to be too strong, which makes your monitor appear dark. Placing your monitor across from the window will cause the most direct glare.
Even with the monitor angled correctly to the window, glare can be an issue when the sun is low in the sky. Curtains or blinds are the best way to control the amount of daylight entering the room.
Artificial lighting can also cause glare. Avoid placing lamps in front of your monitor, and if you need a floor lamp try to use one that shines upward (a torchiere) rather than downward. This will bounce the light off your ceiling making it more diffuse. If you need a desk lamp to light papers on your desk, place it farther back on your desk than your monitor. That way, the light can’t shine directly onto your monitor. When you’re working entirely onscreen, turn the desk lamp off.
Overhead lighting fixtures can cause glare, especially fluorescent lights. If possible, replace bright ceiling lights with less powerful bulbs, or use a fixture that blocks or diffuses some of the light. In an office setting, find out if you can remove the bulbs directly above your desk.
Master Your Monitor
Glare is not the only enemy when it comes to eye strain. Our eyes adjust to darker or brighter lighting conditions in general, but they don’t do well when there are both dark and bright areas in our field of vision. Strong contrast between the brightness of your monitor and the area around it can cause significant eye strain and fatigue.
The first step in reducing this contrast is to adjust your monitor settings. If your monitor is the brightest thing in the room, turn the brightness down.
You can also choose non-white background colours for your documents in some programs, so that instead of staring at black text on white, you can change it to black on grey or beige. In Word, for example, you can change the page colour (look under the “Design” tab in Word 2016) while you are working on the document, and change it back to white when you save your final copy.
Contrast between your room and your monitor can change throughout the day, depending on the amount of daylight entering your room. There is software you can download that will automatically adjust the brightness and colour temperature of your monitor (which ranges from bluish to reddish tones) according to the time of day. F.lux is a popular, free version of this.
Add Some Bias
Another trick for reducing lighting contrast is to use bias lighting, which is gaining popularity for both computer monitors and televisions.
Bias lighting involves increasing the light around your monitor to reduce the sudden fall-off of light. Even in a lit room, the area behind your monitor can appear dark. Bias lighting most often attaches to the back of your monitor and shines light on the wall behind it, or uses a small lamp placed behind your monitor, pointed at the wall. Small LED lamps or LED strips are the most common lights used for this. You can read more about how to select and install bias lighting in John Fitzpatrick’s comprehensive article for How-To Geek.
Take a Break
Our eyes naturally focus at different distances depending on the type of activity we are doing. However, when we work at a computer for hours at a time, we force our eyes to focus at one distance for that entire time. This can cause serious fatigue.
You can prevent this fatigue by taking regular breaks from staring at your screen. An easy formula to remember is the 20-20-20 rule, endorsed by the Canadian Association of Optometrists. Take a break every 20 minutes and spend 20 seconds looking at something 20 feet away. Set a timer on your computer or your phone to help you remember. Go look out the window, see what your pet is up to, do some stretching, or whatever works for you.
Blinking Is Beautiful
Another side effect of staring at a monitor for hours is that we blink less. This is especially true when we are deeply focused on the screen, which is common for editors and proofreaders. Less blinking leads to dry eyes, which can be painful and irritating. In addition to your regular breaks, remember to blink. Try to get into the habit of a few deliberate extra blinks every time you save your work. It takes just a second, but it could save you a lot of discomfort. If that isn’t enough, lubricating eye drops can help with chronically dry eyes.
Lose the Lenses
For the most part, the choice between glasses and contact lenses is a personal preference. When it comes to working at the computer all day, however, think about ditching the contact lenses and sticking with glasses.
Contact lenses can be problematic for several reasons. First, contact lenses need to be kept moist in order to remain comfortable and to keep your eyes healthy. As I mentioned above, we tend to blink less when we stare at computer monitors, which makes it harder to prevent our contact lenses from drying out.
Second, most optometrists prescribe contact lenses based on distance vision. They will be the proper prescription for driving, for example. But when you work at a computer, you are focusing much closer. Your contact lenses are likely not the ideal prescription for this. You can wear reading glasses with your contact lenses, but in that case, why not just use reading glasses that replace your contact lenses while you work? In fact, you may need a separate prescription for your computer, even if you have reading glasses. Generally, your monitor will be farther away from your eyes than you would hold a book. A small adjustment to your reading prescription might be ideal for computer work.
Even if you are lucky enough to not need glasses for computer work, you can maintain your good vision by adjusting the documents you’re working on. It’s very easy to use the zoom function on whatever program you are using to increase the size of text, making it less likely that you will strain and squint at the screen. In fact, increasing the size of onscreen fonts is also good for your posture, preventing the “lean in” that often makes us hunch at the shoulders.
Michelle Waitzman is a freelance non-fiction writer, editor, and proofreader in Toronto. Before she became a freelancer, Michelle survived careers in TV production and corporate communications, after which she ran away to live in New Zealand for seven years.
This article was copy edited by Ambrose Li .