Computer Eye Strain: Sunnyvale’s Nemesis

Sometimes, it’s surprising how little people know about the most common health problems in their area. You’d think that here in Silicon Valley, people would understand a little bit more about the way that constantly working at a computer strains your eyes. It’s fair to say that from an optometrist’s perspective, calling computer eye strain ‘Sunnyvale‘s nemesis’ isn’t far from the truth. So here’s a little bit of ‘The More You Know’ for all of your tech folks:


Lighting: The Primary Culprit

The most significant cause of computer eye strain, a.k.a. CVS (‘computer vision syndrome’), is poor lighting. Our eyes evolved in a world where day was day and night was sleepytime — they’re not made to process large differences in contrast. When you sit in front of your computer (or TV) in the dark and look at a bright, backlit screen, you cause your eyes to work extremely hard. But when you sit in front of your computer with a bright light behind you and you see glare on the screen, you create the same problem over again — the glare and the screen create a situation where your eye has to constantly refocus to see the screen.


The answer: sit near a window if at all possible, with your computer perpendicular to the direction the light is coming from. If no natural light is available, set up a soft, non-glaring artificial light at the same angle — to the side of and just slightly behind the plane created by your monitor, but at the periphery of your vision.


The Next Nasty: Constant Focus

Similarly, the human eye is made to constantly change focus — to look at what we’re doing in our hands one moment and then out at the tree line a thousand feet away a split-second later. It can actually hurt both the interior and the muscles that control your eyes if you look at the same depth for a very long time.


Fortunately, it only takes about 20 consecutive seconds per 20 minutes of focus to get your eyes to ‘reset.’ A simple timer can remind you, if you’re the hyperfocused type (and who isn’t, when they’re gaming?) — otherwise, just keep in mind that it’s to your benefit to look away from the screen for a third of a minute every so often.


Finally: Monitor Temperature

The ‘temperature’ of your monitor determines the ‘warmth’ or ‘coolness’ of the colors it displays. While it’s a lot less important, your eyes are definitely adapted to looking at ‘cooler’ colors during the daytime and ‘warmer’ colors in the evening, and looking at the same colors across a long time of day can cause both eye strain and sleeping trouble.


There are a few apps that can alter the color of your monitor over the course of the day, but probably the better idea is to make sure that you don’t spend that long in front of your screen.