6 Things That Can Happen to Your Body When You Stare at a Computer All Day
Sitting for hours at your desk is not only tiring, since working too hard can lead to burnout, but it can also wreak havoc on your body. From eye strain to headaches to back pain and more, here's what happens to your body when you stare at a computer all day—plus, how taking breaks throughout the day can make all the difference.
What Happens to Your Body When You Stare at a Computer All Day
You Could Get "Computer Vision Syndrome"
Staring for too long at a computer screen can lead to short-term, immediate physical effects that can also compromise your work flow. "Those who spend excessive amounts of time on digital devices and computers are subject to the symptoms associated with computer vision syndrome, which include blurred vision, watery eyes, headaches and more," says Brad Brocwell, O.D., an optometrist and vice president of clinical operations for Now Optics.
Basically, your eyes have to work a lot harder to focus on screens. Sujata Paul, professional services clinical lead at Lenstore and a contact lens optician, adds, "Our eyes and eye muscles are required to work harder than normal when we're looking at a computer screen, and this is because of glare and reflections, the movements on the screen and the reduced contrast between letters and backgrounds compared to a physically printed page."
You Could Get Headaches
When you stare at a screen for hours on end, you're not only straining your eyes, but also you might then trigger pain in other areas of the body as result. As previously discussed, your eyes have to work harder to focus on screens, which can cause eye strain.
Paul says that eye strain is a common cause of headaches and migraines and can be triggered by several things, such as "not taking enough breaks, having too much glare from the screen, having strong background lighting and having the device too close to your face."
Your Eyes Can Get Dry
"One of the most common side effects of staring at a screen for too long is dry eyes. When we're focusing on our screens, we tend to blink a lot less than normal (usually 3 to 8 times a minute, compared to 10 to 20 times normally)," says Paul. While dry eyes can be uncomfortable or annoying, there are other issues that arise. When we're not properly lubricating the eyes or blinking away dust or dirt, Paul says, it can lead to chronically dry eyes, tears in contact lenses, scratched corneas and more.
If you wear contact lenses, you're even more susceptible to dryness, Paul adds, "since the lens inhibits oxygen flow, making it really important to ensure you're blinking regularly when looking at a screen."
You Might Get Symptoms of Nearsightedness
People who spend too much time looking at a computer screen may experience nearsighted symptoms. Brocwell says, "Blurred distance vision is caused by overuse of the eyes' focusing (or accommodation) system and, after long periods, their eyes are unable to relax focus to see clearly in the distance."
Each incidence is not very long-lasting or permanent, as long as you get up and let your eyes recover, but can be damaging if staring at the screen for hours becomes a habit. "Distance vision usually returns after resting the eyes, but consistent visual stress could cause a permanent reduction in distance vision," Brocwell cautions.
Your Body Could Be Tense or in Pain
Staring at the screen for too long means you're likely also sitting in your office chair for too long, which can put excess strain on areas like your back, neck and shoulders. "The typical angles and distances we place our screens in relation to our eyes is often a major factor in causing eye strain as well as muscular pain in our necks and backs," says Paul.
It's worth putting your laptop or computer monitor on a raised stand (like this one from Amazon, $32) to keep your posture upright and prevent you from hunching over. You can even try adjusting it higher to use it as a makeshift standing desk.
Blue Light Emission Can Strain Eyes, Decrease Sleep and Mess with Your Metabolism
Paul says, "Blue light emitted from our screens can cause eye strain and fatigue, which can be worsened when the lighting conditions in the room around us are excessively bright." Plus, if you find yourself at the computer in the evening, the blue light emission from the screen may make it more difficult to fall asleep (and even mess with your metabolism).
"Our screens emit blue light that can lead to retinal damage and AMD (age-related macular degeneration)," Paul says. And they may disrupt your sleep schedule. Brocwell adds, "There is evidence that blue light emitted from your devices can disrupt your circadian rhythm, your body's sleep-and-wake cycle, and too much blue light exposure from your computer, smartphone, tablet or TV before bed can make it more difficult to fall asleep."
And any sleep deficit can make it harder to function the next day, plus if you start to lose sleep regularly, you can increase your risk of illness and even gain weight. Plus, your body performs various functions at night while you sleep, such as building and repairing muscles, promoting collagen production to slow the effects of aging, and keeping your immune system strong.
The bottom line: Getting enough quality sleep is incredibly important for your overall health and well-being. "You should try and limit using your devices one to two hours before bedtime, and use the nighttime setting on your smartphone or tablet, which help limit blue light exposure," Brocwell recommends.
How to Get Relief from Staring at a Computer Screen
If you use a computer every day for work, it doesn't have to be all doom and gloom. However, there are a few expert-backed takeaways to help give your body the relief it needs.
Take Regular Breaks
Brocwell says, "Remember to give your eyes a break from continuous screen time and near viewing to avoid digital eye strain. A good way to do so is with the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes look away from your screen and look at an object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds." Even a short break can be very effective at combating dry eye and digital eye strain.
Adjust Your Computer Screen and Lighting
Paul says to position your computer screen at 3 to 5 inches below your eye level, away from direct and indirect glare sources and at a sensible distance, so you're not straining your eyes or back when staring at the screen or leaning in to view better.
Additionally, switching your devices over to night mode could also help. "Night modes reduce the amount of blue light emitted by the screen by displaying warmer colors, which are easier on the eye," says Paul.
You can also reduce eye strain by opting for more ambient lighting in the room around you, especially when spending prolonged periods of time looking at a screen. "Excessively bright lighting can cause discomfort and contribute to a glare on your screen, potentially resulting in eye strain and headaches," Paul explains.
Keep Eye Drops Handy
Keeping eye drops at your desk beside you is also a handy aid for dry eye relief. "Using over-the-counter or prescription eye drops to lubricate your eyes can help reduce dryness caused by looking at a screen for too long. Eye drops can serve as 'artificial tears,' providing temporary relief from dryness and discomfort," says Paul. (These ones from TheraTears have excellent reviews. Buy them: $10, Amazon).
Try Blue Light Glasses
Certain glasses are better for blocking transmissions from the screen and protecting your eyes. Brocwell says, "Blue light glasses, now known to many since the onset of the pandemic, help protect your eyes from blue light, which computers emit. With blue light glasses, you're less likely to experience disruption in your sleep cycle." They can also help decrease eye pain. "Blue light glasses feature lenses that reduce the amount of blue light reaching your eyes, which can help reduce eye strain and potentially prevent long-term damage," adds Paul.
You can also get tinted or coated lenses on your glasses as an alternative method to blue light glasses to help manage blue light emission and its effects on the eyes and body. Brocwell explains, "Lens tints are far more effective at blocking blue light, but the lenses have a yellow or amber color, whereas lens coatings are clearer and less effective, but their anti-reflective coating helps protect your eyes from blue light."
Drink Plenty of Water and Eat a Healthy Diet
Lastly, keep eyes healthy by hydrating during the day. Paul says, "Drinking enough water is important for our overall health, as well as the health of our eyes." Try to drink 90 to 120 ounces to meet your daily goals and keep your body hydrated.
It's also important to eat a nutritious diet that helps support eye health. Brocwell says, "Nutrition plays a very important part in eye health, and studies show that certain nutrients can help reduce the risk of certain eye diseases and are used in the treatment of others (such as macular degeneration or dry eye)." Certain nutrients and foods can help boost eye health, such as "foods with lutein, like green leafy vegetables, vitamin C, vitamin E in nuts, and omega-3 fatty acids in salmon," Brocwell suggests. Try our Superfood Chopped Salad with Salmon & Creamy Garlic Dressing or our Orange-Walnut Salad with Chicken for a little extra nutrient boost.