Is Too Much Screen Time Giving You Headaches?

With all the hours spent on digital devices, researchers continue to study how too much screen time impacts our physical and mental health, including the links between screen time and headaches.

So, is working all day on your computer the cause of your headaches? Or maybe the time you’re spending on your tablet or smartphone? Well, according to the studies, maybe.    

The Headache Link

Researchers and health care professionals say headaches are linked to the hours spent in front of a computer or on other digital devices because they’re connected to other definitive effects of the screen time, such as eyestrain, excess illumination and poor posture.

People who look at screens two or more hours in a row every day have the greatest risk of getting a condition called digital eye strain, or Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), according to the American Optometric Association.

Digital Eye Strain Problems

Digital eye strain is described by the American Optometric Association as a group of eye-related problems that result from prolonged use of your computer, tablet, and cell phone, with issues that include blurry vision, dry eyes, headaches and neck pain.

People get dry eyes when looking at a computer or other digital screen because the tendency is to blink less, and that blocks the moisture that naturally occurs with blinking.

“Normally, humans blink about 15 times a minute,” says the American Academy of Ophthalmology, “but studies show we blink half to a third that often while using computers and other digital screen devices, whether for work or play.” 

In general, viewing a computer or digital screen is making your eyes work harder, more so than looking at printed materials.

“Many individuals experience eye discomfort and vision problems when viewing digital screens for extended periods,” says the American Optometric Association. “The level of discomfort appears to increase with the amount of digital screen use.”

Eye strain and eye fatigue, both of which can trigger a headache, can be caused by viewing the screens at less-than ideal distances or angles, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Other causes of eye strain are screen glare or reflection, and the poor contrast between the text and the background. The letters on your computer or handheld device are not as precise or sharply defined.

When you’re looking at any digital device, your eyes are experiencing a focusing and movement issue. The brain is directing the eye muscles to keep readjusting focus between the RPA and the front of the screen, creating a “struggle” between where your eyes want to focus on the screen and where they should be focused.

Other factors that can make the condition worse, according to the Mayo Clinic, are the setup of your computer workstation, and circulating air, such as from air conditioning or a nearby fan.

In some cases, an underlying eye problem, such as eye muscle imbalance or uncorrected vision, can cause or worsen computer eye strain.

Other Headache Triggers

While neurologists at Mount Sinai Hospital acknowledge that the eye strain caused by the long hours looking at television, computers, tablets, cell phones, and video games could be behind your headaches, it may not be the sole cause.

To aid circulation and lessen your risk of headaches, they say, get up from your computer, TV or any digital screen for frequent short breaks to walk and stretch your neck, arms and back.

Link to Migraines?

There’s been research on whether the exposure to low radio frequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) through the use of cell phones and Wi-Fi may cause more frequent and more severe migraine headaches. The studies have not been conclusive, and a link isn’t exactly clear.

Some experts say stress -- a known migraine trigger -- is more common among those exposed to RF-EMF and that explains the link that’s been reported.

Your Work and Screens

Eliminating screen time isn’t really an option for any business owner, regardless on the type of business you’re running. Your days may even require hours on the computer or other digital devices.

But there are ways to avoid the headaches that can be caused indirectly by too much screen time at work and home, by lessening your risk for digital eye strain. For example, you can lessen the glare on your computer or tablet by using a matte screen filter. 

But most importantly, the best way to avoid Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), or digital eye strain, which can trigger headaches, is taking regular breaks from your digital devices.

Optometrists and ophthalmologists recommend using the 20-20-20 rule: take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes.

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