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Square eyes: managing your screen time during lockdown

Posted by Samantha Browning on 14th May 2020

The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown has emphasised not only the way we use smart devices on a daily basis, but also the extent to which our eyes are being exposed to screens.

Separated from our friends, family and colleagues to help stop the spread of the disease, many of us are relying on technologies such as FaceTime, Houseparty and WhatsApp to keep in touch with our teams, see our loved ones and socialise.

Similarly, we’re adapting our usual habits — swapping gym sessions for virtual workouts, teaching children from our lounges on smart devices and replacing a trip to the pub with a scheduled Zoom call with a glass or two of wine. So, how should we be managing the time we spend in front of screens now that it forms an even larger part of our lives than ever before?

Quality over quantity

At the moment, many people are using their devices in every part of their lives — even more than before. Whether it’s communicating with others, home-schooling your kids, staying up to date on the latest news or distracting yourself with some pictures of cute dogs on Instagram (just me?), we’re tethered to our phones all day, every day.

The impact of current restrictions on mental health have been well reported, but what about things like eye health? If my parents were right, then staring at a screen for hours on end is going to result in square eyes all round… So, what can be done to help this?

Advice from The World Health Organization (WHO) states that people should aim to “be aware of how much time you spend in front of a screen every day” while making sure to take “regular breaks from on-screen activities”. Similarly, according to research from Eyesafe Nielsen, adults are now spending over 13 hours a day using screens — up three hours from the same time last year.

With this in mind, it’s important that people are prioritising quality time online over quantity. Perhaps prioritise that call with your mum over an hour of aimless scrolling through silly videos on TikTok or maybe take the time to read a book or take your daily exercise outside rather than reading more depressing news headlines from your sofa.

Blink and you’ve missed it

You’ve probably never noticed it, but apparently, we blink a lot less when we look at bright devices than we do usually. This leaves our eyes feeling dry and tired — a feeling I’m sure you’re all familiar with at the moment.

There are a few solutions to this, including taking regular screen breaks by looking away from the device you’re on or stepping away for a five-minute tea break, as well as training yourself to blink more and even using eye drops and “artificial tears” that you can buy from opticians.

Another key part of this is making sure your home office setup is right. Now that we’re all working from our make-shift offices in bedrooms, lounges, kitchens, gardens and home offices, this is more important than ever.

According to Moorfield Eye Hospital in London, there are a few steps to this:

  • The top of your computer screen should be in line with your eyes
  • Your screen should be roughly 18 to 30 inches from where you’re sitting and tilted back by about 10 to 15 degrees
  • The lighting in your surrounding area should also be dimmer so that the screen is brighter in comparison.
  • Your screen should also be clean and free of dust

Following these tips should not only help ensure that your eyes are not straining, but also prevent other problems such as neck or backache.

Feeling blue

“Blue light” is often demonised as having a detrimental effect on our eyes, brains and body clock. It’s well-cited as causing sleepless nights in people of all ages — and, in a time when anxiety is high, sleep is a much-needed commodity! Although blue light doesn’t directly impact your eyesight, it’s worth considering the wider implications of this.

One popular way to overcome this is turning devices to dark mode, which makes your screen a little easier on the eye and is less dazzling to your peepers. For fans of dark mode, there was an announcement earlier this month from Google Chrome saying they would be updating the feature soon to make it even darker.

However, another techier solution is blue light glasses, which claim to protect your eyes from the harmful and sleep-stealing light rays emitted from your devices. These glasses filter out this light, using lenses that are coated with a special material and can be created with or without a prescription. While the jury may be out on whether they are worth the money (they can cost over £100, depending on the brand), for those struggling with sore or dry eyes due to screen exposure, it’s worth investigating.

So, next time you’re watching that YouTube video with your morning coffee or sitting on your phone during what should be your lunch break, think of your eyes. They may not be able to say thank you, but you’ll soon start to feel the benefits… And as soon as lockdown ends, you can thank me personally!

Samantha Browning

With two and a half years of experience in technology PR gained at a London-based agency, Sammy joined Wildfire in November 2016 and brings with her invaluable knowledge of the consumer and B2B tech landscape and the wider media industry. Whilst gaining her degree from The University of Kent in English & American Literature and French, Sammy spent a year abroad living and studying in France. She continues her love of writing, books and the French language in both her professional and personal life. Sammy is a big fan of food, films, travelling and dogs. She loves planning holidays and would be very happy to hear of any recommendations!