Opening Your Eyes: How to Protect Your Vision with Increasing Screentime

With so much constantly happening in the world, it is easy to stay glued to your computer or phone with round-the-clock updates on the latest news and trends. When you combine this time with social media use and screen time during working hours, it should not come as a surprise that we are in front of our screens now more than ever before. 

How much is too much?  

In 2021, on average, people worldwide spent a total of six hours and 55 minutes in front of a screen every day. Americans slightly eclipsed this worldwide average, spending close to seven hours and eleven minutes of daily screen time. Remember telling your kids not to sit too close to the TV? A  study of 5,412 adolescents between the ages of 10 and 14, conducted by JAMA Pediatrics, found that the average daily time children spend in front of screens nearly doubled pre-pandemic estimates from 3.8 hours per day to 7.7 hours per day. According to the study’s lead author Dr. Jason Nagata, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California in San Francisco, “Adolescents who reported more screen time also reported suffering in other areas of their lives [with poorer mental health and greater stress].” 

How does screen time affect the eye? 

Though relatively small, the eye is complex. Here is a quick rundown of the parts of the eye 

  • On the outside of the eyeball are muscles that move the eye called extraocular muscles.  
  • The surface of the eye stays lubricated by a clear membrane called the conjunctiva along with three layers of tear film.  
  • On the front of the eye, there is the cornea, which is where the eye focuses light. Behind the cornea is the pupil (allowing light into the eye), which sits directly in front of the lens that focuses light toward the back of the eye. 
  • In the back of the eye is the retina, the light-sensitive tissue that sends electrical impulses through the optic nerve to the brain.  

Now that we know its anatomy, here are some of the negative effects excessive screen time can have on the eye: 

  • Overuse of the eye can cause asthenopia or eye fatigue, which can lead to eye discomfort and pain, dimness of vision, tiredness and headache.  
  • When we are in front of screens, we blink less than normal, causing the eye to dry out. Dry and irritated eyes are not only uncomfortable but also affect the tear film, which is crucial for clear vision. 
  • Focusing up close for extended periods of time can lead to short-term loss of focus flexibility, making it more difficult to readjust to distance vision.  

Keeping a “close eye” on protecting your vision: 

The answer is clear: less screen time is better for our eyes. However, making this a reality in a highly digitized world can be challenging. Scheduling a routine “digital detox” can help provide some time away from devices. Though a multi-day break is the most effective kind of detox, starting with a more manageable goal of taking a few hours off at a time and building to more time off from your devices is a good way to build consistency. Another easy way to ditch your devices is by creating library hours for yourself, creating a timeframe every night where you can be screen-free. Setting these time limits, from 7 p.m. through 7 a.m., for example, can help you wind down and disconnect before bed, allowing you to wake up refreshed and in a good mood while also caring for the health of your eyes. 

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