Sleep or screen time: Which do you get more of these days? For many people, the answer might be screen time.
In fact, some people spend at least 13 hours per day in front of digital devices, due in part to more time at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an Eyesafe analysis. This increase in screen time, up from between 7 and 10 hours a day in 2019, is likely contributing to more exposure to blue light.
While this low-wavelength, high-energy light offers some benefits, such as boosting alertness and elevating moods, too much of it may cause problems. Researchers continue to evaluate the potential short- and long-term health implications that may come from excessive exposure to blue light, including:
- Potential damage to retina cells, particularly in children and teens
- Increased incidences of age-related macular degeneration
- Disrupted sleep cycles
- Digital eye strain
Also known as computer vision syndrome, digital eye strain is a group of eye issues and vision problems that may result from extended computer and smartphone usage and prolonged exposure to blue light. Nearly 60% of U.S. adults report experiencing symptoms of digital eye strain, which can include:
- Dry, red eyes
- Double or blurred vision
- Neck and shoulder pain
Protecting eye health
Screen time is a fact of life for many people, but there are ways to help protect your eye health while using computers and other digital devices for work or play. Here are several strategies to consider, including some recommendations from the American Optometric Association (AOA):
1. Use the 20-20-20 rule or other rest tactics
Give your eyes some rest during the day by taking a moment to break up long stretches of screen time. The 20-20-20 rule recommends that after 20 minutes of computer work, you take 20 seconds to look at something that’s approximately 20 feet away. You might also switch to a task for which your eyes don't have to focus on something up close, such as returning a call or connecting with a coworker.
2. Maintain a clean screen
Keep your device screen free of fingerprints and other smudges to decrease glare and improve clarity. For more help, consider installing a blue-light-blocking screen protector to help reduce your exposure to blue light.
Eligible UnitedHealthcare Vision members may have access to a discount of up to 20% on Dell XPS laptops with embedded blue-light-blocking properties. The offer is similar to a previously introduced discount of up to 20% on Eyesafe blue-light-blocking screen protectors for smartphones, tablets and laptop computers.
3. Set screens at proper distances
Many people find it comfortable to view a screen while looking slightly downward — a few inches below eye level — 20 to 28 inches from the eyes. Place reference materials so your head does not need to be repositioned to see them. Options include placing items above the keyboard, below the monitor or on a document holder.
4. Create a well-lit workspace
Avoid harsh lighting that puts shadows or glare on your screen. Use window shades and blinds when sunlight is bright and keep other lighting dim and balanced.
5. See your eye doctor
It’s a good idea for computer users to get an eye exam every year, according to the AOA. If you’re experiencing ongoing symptoms of digital eye strain, lenses prescribed for computer viewing may be needed. Visit myuhcvision.com for more information and to find a local optometrist or ophthalmologist who is part of your health plan.
Helping address blue-light exposure among young people
Because the eyes of children and teens are not yet fully developed to help mitigate exposure to blue light, UnitedHealthcare continues to invest in ways to help make screen time safer for students. For instance, a recent donation of $120,000 is being shared by six school districts across the U.S. to help provide students with important technology resources, such as laptops with blue-light-filtering capabilities, to assist in reducing the risk of digital eye strain.
Visit uhc.com for blue-light and screen-time guides for parents and educators and employers and employees.