Students have been using more technology than ever during distance learning to attend classes and complete homework, leading to extended screen time. This prolonged exposure can lead to digital eye strain and premature aging of the eyes. To curb these negative effects, the Smoke Signal has compiled this guide to highlight the benefits and effectiveness of innovations and techniques, which you can implement into your daily routines.
Blue Light Glasses
Blue light glasses have recently gained popularity alongside the uptick in increased screen usage. Side effects of extended digital screen time include insomnia, abnormal sleep patterns, and eye strain after prolonged exposure, and the leading cause? Blue light, which is visible light in the 400 to 450 nm of the light spectrum. These glasses help reduce the negative effects by filtering out the blue light that screens emit. Because the product was put on the market in the last couple years, research has not yet proven the benefits of blue light glasses. However, according to the American Optometric Association, blue light glasses could help reduce eyestrain, especially when users consistently have a total of six or more hours of daily screen time. Blue light glasses cost on average, around $15-22. You can find your first pair at major retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy, or Staples.
Blue light glasses can filter out blue light, helping to reduce eyestrain.
Blue Light Screen Protectors
Similar to blue light glasses, placing anti-glare screen protectors to your devices and glasses can have benefits. The screen protectors use special coatings to block blue light. A free alternative to blue light screen protectors is enabling the night shift or night mode features many computers and mobile devices have. You can find this mode in the settings of your device under appearance or screen settings. Some computers, like the Chromebook Acer, have a specific blue light filtering mode similar to night mode, but you can completely disable blue light on your screen. To help you take your first step to reducing eye strain, major retailers like Walmart and Amazon sell protectors for $15-$25.
Ergonomic Setups and Screen Practices
Your workspace and computer setup can have a profound effect on your performance throughout the day. Throughout the day, make sure to adjust your posture and the position of your devices so that your eyes are about an arm’s length away from the screen. If your screen is closer, your pupils have to make more drastic movements to read across the screen. Positioning your screen slightly downwards and lowering the screen brightness can also reduce eye strain. In addition to changing your positioning, investing in ergonomic chairs, tables, and desks can drastically help. Keep your workspace tidy to maximize efficiency. Although maintaining healthy screen habits can be difficult even for the best of us, establishing them now can help prevent headaches, muscle fatigue, and eye strain in the long term.
Utilities like laptop stands can help improve workspace ergonomics, allowing you to maintain a healthy distance from screens.
As a result of an insufficient number of breaks from your devices during the day, you may find yourself with dry and watery eyes, blurred vision, or headaches that distract you from getting homework done and falling asleep at night. However, the 20-20-20 Rule helps you combat this. The rule recommends that you shift your gaze to focus on an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds after every 20 minutes of screen time. This practice allows your eyes to relax after constantly staring at a screen, reducing eye strain after intense screen use. By looking at distant objects, you’re less likely to develop watery eyes and blurred vision, as it gives your eyes a change of pace and relieves the fatigue. Because of its simplicity, the 20-20-20 Rule is easy to remember, and is a habit that you can easily incorporate into your distance learning routine to combat eye fatigue.
Limiting Screen Time Before Bed
According to research the Harvard Medical School conducted in 2012, blue light suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps promote sleep, and disrupts the body’s circadian rhythms. However, as students and teachers use screens later into the night and expose themselves to blue light, it can be difficult to fall asleep. Turning off devices an hour before going to bed can limit a person’s exposure to blue light and allows their body to produce melatonin in preparation to fall asleep, ensuring a gradual transition into the night and preventing insomnia and drowsiness the next morning.
Optimizing Screen Time
Using time management apps can ensure that you maximize your productivity during the day and decrease screen exposure. Apple and Android users can track how much time they spend on their phones each day using the built-in Screen Time or Digital Wellbeing functions, which you can access through Settings and view a breakdown of how much time you spend on each app. You can also download additional apps where you can compete with friends, create and share to-do lists, and track your habits. For example, Forest and Flora allow you to grow virtual trees when you’re not using your devices. You can also challenge your friends to plant trees together, providing an incentive to stay focused. Optimizing the time you spend on your phone prevents you from engaging with screens for longer than necessary and experiencing digital eye strain.
How would you describe your experience with technology during distance learning (e.g. Google Classroom, www.turnitin.com, Flipgrid, and Zoom, etc.)? Have there been any notable challenges?
“I think the biggest challenge is just getting used to using the computer for everything. So I’m the kind of teacher that I’m still kind of old school on stuff so I do a lot of paper pencil type of stuff. Even for my calendar, I have an actual calendar that I use to write my plans before I post it on School Loop. So, I think, even those things, I still do the calendar planning old school style, but everything that I have for my students I have to make sure I put it online, and I guess it just takes some getting used to. It’s not like I’m not hardwired to do that. It’s kind of ironic, especially since I teach environmental science, but I like having the paper copies of whatever it is, lecture notes or student work, and now I have to look at it all on the computers. I feel like it’s harder to focus on the work.” — Science Teacher Lisa Ishimine
Have you experienced any fatigue or eye strain since school has started (e.g. neck and back pain, dry eyes, headaches)? If so, how did you cope with it?
“I’ve absolutely experienced all of those. The first two weeks of school were probably the most physically demanding of my teaching career, and I’ve been teaching for 25 years. It’s surprising how much sitting for so long can have a physical toll on the body. I’ve tried sitting on different chairs and balls. I recently got my teacher chair from school. Looking at a keyboard has given me severe neck strain. I’ve tried blue light glasses, and I try to look away from the screen. After school, I try to go for a walk and do physical activity. I don’t really get headaches as much anymore, but I’m starting to get more used to distance learning and being more aware.” — Honors English Teacher Elizabeth Waller
What changes have you implemented into your teaching methods in order to keep your students engaged and to ensure they aren’t becoming too fatigued during Zoom sessions?
“If I’m lecturing with my freshmen, I’m doing a lot of lecturing for a while. So I try to be conscious of stopping and then asking them questions related to what I’m lecturing about. Initially, before I started teaching this year I was thinking, “Oh I’ll have breaks during class,” but honestly I keep forgetting about it and … I just plow through. But, I try to be more mindful of that asynchronous time. And with my freshmen especially, I try to make sure there’s some asynchronous time. At the end of the class period with APES, it’s hard because it’s college level stuff so there’s always something that we got to be doing.” — Science Teacher Lisa Ishimine
What’s a product or technique (i.e. blue light glasses, taking frequent breaks, no screen time periods) that you would recommend to others who are doing distance learning?
“Drink water, 20-20-20 rule, making sure your workspace is organized and clean, and taking frequent breaks and stretching, going for walks and doing physical activity. If you can, give yourself a reward after you finish work. ” — Honors English Teacher Elizabeth Waller
Have you experienced any fatigue or eye strain since school has started? If so, how did you cope with it?
“I think I have experienced a lot of eyestrain. I already have kind of bad eyesight to begin with, like I wear contacts, and my eyesight is not too good. Staring at a computer screen all day, especially like after school is hard. You have to work on your computer to do the homework and stuff, so I’ve had, like, really bad headaches too.” — Janista Person, 12
What habits have you developed to improve your screen time habits during distance learning?
“I think setting fitness goals has been a huge aspect of trying to limit my screen time and time spent sitting down in my house. For me personally, [softball] tournaments for my competitive sport team outside of school are still ongoing. I think having to prepare for games and get fit again after a period of time in quarantine has been a huge motivation for me. For example, during Office Hours or after school, I go out to the field or the batting cages to get some work in. This serves as a nice break from sitting in front of my computer. Sometimes I will also go for a quick jog or a Youtube workout to make sure that I am at least moving my body once that day.” — Amanda Deng, 9
What’s a product or technique (i.e. blue light glasses, taking frequent breaks, no screen time periods, various setups) that you would recommend to others who are doing distance learning?
“Taking frequent breaks without screen time and having a certain setup where u only do work reduces the strain of Zoom and keeps you focused. Like I always do my work on my desk and have all my notebooks and textbooks near me so I am prepared. I also have my chargers near my desk so my computer power doesn’t die out in the middle of a call.” — Pooja Mayya, 10
How would you describe your experience with technology during distance learning (Google Classroom, www.turnitin.com, Flipgrid, and Zoom)? Have there been any notable challenges?
“At first, all the different websites and applications were a little confusing to keep track of, but I think now that we transitioned further into the school year, I’m a lot more familiar with some of the technology we use.” — Evelyn Chen, 11
Cover graphic by Feature Editor Ian Park