If you're anything like me, sometimes I'm working into the wee hours of the night.

After dinner, I flip open my laptop and sure enough ... I get blinded by what looks like an industrial flashlight beaming directly into my retinas.

Squinting into the blinding light of the sun my laptop, I slap the brightness button to reduce it from oh-my-god-I-cannot-see … to phew-this-is-a-little-better-I-think.

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The worst part isn't getting blinded by lightning rods sent straight from the hands of Zeus, but what happens a few hours later:

My eyes feel strained, I have a headache, and my brain just feels tired.

This is known as computer eye strain, which occurs in 50% to 90% of computer workers. Yet 99% of people (or at least anyone I've ever talked to), are unaware of what actually causes eye strain.

In the simplest terms possible, it's because computer screens emit blue light which is designed to mimic the sun.

So, when we use computers at night, it tricks our biological clock into thinking it's still daylight.

Countless studies have proven (here, here, here, and here) that the backlights from our laptops and desktops make us:

  • Have late-night headaches and migraines
  • Groggy, lethargic, and fatigued after waking up
  • Less able to concentrate during important projects
  • Reduce our body's amount of sleep by one hour

Our body functions in what are called circadian rhythms, which is our physiological response to light and darkness. It's what cues us, and all mammal species, to fall asleep at night:

But when we're staring into our computer screens, the blue light from screens tricks our brain into thinking it's still daylight.

As a result, we fall asleep one hour later because melatonin (our brain's chemical that makes us fall asleep) levels are delayed by an hour:

In the above study, there are two lines:

  • The black dotted line is when people read a print book one hour before bed.
  • The white dotted line is when they read an e-reader, or Kindle before bed.

This means if we stare into a regular screen before bed, our body's melatonin levels are delayed by an hour, reducing sleep quality. Conversely, if we read a book, our melatonin levels remain stable.

So, is it possible to solve these strain and fatigue problems, while still using our computers at night?

Try using a computer application that adjusts screen brightness and color. F.lux is a free tool that works with Mac and PC and reduces the blue light on our computers that are responsible for harming our sleep patterns. Since I've started using it, I've been able to fall asleep faster, reduce late-night headaches, and wake up with more energy.

Below is a comparison of my computer screen before and after installing f.lux:

Computer screen before and after f.lux-1

The yellowish-hue eliminates all of those harmful effects (headaches, sleep deprivation, etc.) caused by blue light. Yes, it's a little weird at first, but the benefits far surpass the temporary weirdness. It took me about three days to get used to it. 

After downloading, you'll be prompted to tell f.lux your location, so it can automatically detect when the sun rises and falls. This keeps our melatonin levels stable, helping our circadian rhythm remain in its natural cycle.

F.lux also has a Google Chrome extension that you install directly in your web browser. Other browser extensions that adjust the brightness and blue light of your computer include Color Temperature (Change Lux), Night Shift, and Blue Light Filter Guard.

What if you experience headaches from your computer screen, both night and day?

1. Take frequent breaks from your computer.

When was the last time you took a break from your computer? If it's been two hours or more, it's time to step away for a moment. The American Optometric Association recommends resting your eyes for 15 minutes after two hours of screen time.

So grab a snack, refill your coffee, or take a quick walk outside. When you come back to your desk you'll be ready to continue working, without eye strain or a splitting headache.

2. Work in a properly lit area.

Another way to combat eye strain and headaches is to make sure the lights in your office are conducive for computer work. Harsh lighting from windows or fluorescent lights can increase the strain on your eyes.

If your workspace is excessively bright, try shading the windows or reducing the brightness of the overhead lights. Many offices have bright fluorescent lights. If your company has fluorescent lights, ask to have warmer lights or full spectrum lights installed. Lights that more closely reflect natural sunlight are less harsh on your eyes than fluorescent light.

3. Reduce computer screen glare.

Glare from walls, windows, and bright lights can also cause eye strain. Closing blinds and reducing the amount of light in the room helps reduce glare on your computer screen.

There are also anti-glare screen covers you can lay over your computer screen to further reduce glare. These are just a few ways you can protect your eyes from reflections on your computer screen.

4. Clean your computer display.

Dust or residue on your computer can reduce the sharpness of the screen. This makes it more challenging to focus on the contents of the screen. 

Use a microfiber cloth or computer wipe to clean any dust or fingerprints from your screen.

5. Use the 20-20-20 rule to rest your eyes.

This last tip is a quick one to remember: the 20-20-20 rule. Take a 20-second break every 20 minutes by looking at an object 20 feet away. 

Looking at something in the distance will give your eye muscles a break to reduce fatigue and headaches. Now, we can finish up last-minute projects, clean out our inboxes, or send follow-up emails without any harmful side effects.

Try out these tips and I guarantee the eye strain, headaches, and fatigue will disappear forever. And if you're looking for some more productivity tips, read about this to-do list system next.

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Originally published Feb 4, 2019 4:41:00 PM, updated February 05 2019

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