Sunday, August 17, 2014

Tips for computer users to reduce eyestrain

As a writer I probably spend far more time in front of a computer screen than most people.  I've had problems with eyestrain for  years, and developed certain tricks and used various products to alleviate them.  I thought some of my readers might be able to put what I've learned to good use.

First, try the basics.

  • If you use reading glasses, try half-strength reading glasses at the computer (for example, if you use 1.5X reading glasses to read a book or newspaper, try 0.75X or 1X readers at the computer;  if you use 2X readers, try 1X or 1.25X readers at the computer;  and so on).  Alternatively, have your optician measure your reading needs at the same distance at which you sit from your computer monitor, and prescribe lenses optimized for that specific range.  That's what I did recently, and the results are slightly (but not vastly) better than using half-strength readers.  (This may be the best solution if your left and right eyes have different prescriptions.)
  • Try different display color schemes.  A lot will depend on your color vision (everyone sees colors slightly differently, and some are color-blind in some parts of the spectrum, but not others).  Choose a color scheme that offers the best contrast for your vision needs - but be aware that may cause difficulties for others who use your computer.  If there are several regular users of one system, it's probably best to set up login ID's for each of them, with every ID having its own color scheme to suit that user.
  • Make sure your monitor is at a height level with or slightly below your eyes, so that you don't have to look up or very far down to see it;  and set it at a distance from your eyes that allows you to focus easily when sitting in a normal upright position, so that you don't have to bend forward, lean back, or crane your neck and shoulders to read it clearly.  One can develop serious posture problems over the long term if one doesn't address these issues.  I know.  I've got some myself, that I'm going to have to work on eradicating before they turn into a permanent (and premature) "old man's stoop".
  • If you find it difficult to put a laptop at the ideal viewing height and distance because you need to use the keyboard, try using an external keyboard and mouse instead.  That way you can position the laptop itself at optimal viewing height, while positioning the keyboard and mouse closer to you (and further away from the computer).  That may be the best ergonomic solution, as well as offering the opportunity to use more specialized keyboards and mice or trackballs (for example, because I touch-type at up to 100 words per minute, I prefer the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 - I have three, and I'd hate to be without them!).
  • If you find your eyes get tired and strained, use moisturizing eye drops;  and at night, when you go to bed, consider using an overnight lubricant eye ointment.  I use both as and when required, particularly the ointment when I'm on a tight schedule and writing ten to twelve hours a day.  They're life-savers.

There are two more tips that can make a big difference.  One is to adjust the 'color temperature' of your screen to reflect the difference between day and night.  A free software program, F.Lux, does this very well, and I use it on all my computers.  The producer offers interesting information about how light affects our eyes and sleep cycle.  I recommend F.Lux very highly.

The other solution is for Windows users.  I only recently discovered it, because my hardware configuration hid it from me for some time.  If you look in the Windows Control Panel, there's a heading called 'Appearance and Personalization'.  Within it there's a 'Display' section, beneath which is a command titled 'Make text and other items larger or smaller'.  When you select that command, you may find that you see a slider marked from 'Smaller' to 'Larger', and beneath it an empty check box marked 'Let me choose one setting for all my displays'.  While that box was unchecked, I couldn't move the slider on my laptop - I was stuck with the standard size display.  However, when I checked that box, the selection changed to two check boxes, one marked 'Smaller - 100% (Default)' and the other marked 'Medium - 125%'.  When I clicked the 'Medium' box, my display instantly 'grew' to show larger icons, text and images on the Desktop and in all applications.

The important thing with this setting is that your screen remains at its highest possible resolution.  I'd previously experimented with reducing the resolution in order to enlarge text and graphics, because (for example) reducing resolution by 20% means that fewer pixels are displayed per inch, so a graphic of (say) 50 pixels across now occupies more of that inch than it did before.  Unfortunately, reducing the resolution makes text 'fuzzier' and less crisp and sharp, adding to eyestrain.  By using the Control Panel as described in the previous paragraph, one can get larger, easier-to-read display elements at the full screen resolution, with no increase in 'fuzziness'.  This has reduced my eyestrain problem.

Using larger text and graphics does, of course, reduce the amount that can be displayed on one's screen.  On (say) a 15" laptop screen, one will have to scroll back and forth, and up and down, more frequently in order to view the full display (and possibly change your mouse settings to reduce the number of lines moved up or down with each click or turn of its wheel).  However, to me the reduction in eyestrain is worth this minor drawback.  I'm typing these words on a display-enlarged laptop screen, and the text is much easier for me to read at my normal distance from the monitor.  (On my desktop system I'm still experimenting with the best option:  but there I use 23" high-resolution screens, which are a whole different ballgame compared to a much smaller and lower-resolution laptop display.)

I hope these tips and tricks help you make the most of your computer.



Tewshooz said...

I have been using F.lux for a few weeks and really like it. It relaxes my eyes at night.

Sevesteen said...

In my case, I'm extremely nearsighted. I can read books without glasses, but not through my distance prescription--but I need the distance correction to see my monitor. This leaves a fairly small area of my progressive bifocals that's the right prescription for the monitor...usually the spot with a smudge on it. Single vision glasses are so cheap online that it is worthwhile to experiment. Last time I ordered glasses, I spent an extra $15 on 2 different single vision prescriptions. The half strength one is much better for computer work than my progressive bifocals, and I chose a fairly short style and adjusted it to sit high so I can peek under the frame if I want to read something closer.

Elizabeth said...

Don't forget the CTRL + to enlarge the font of your screen :-)

Anonymous said...

I write on a laptop and have carpel tunnel, so I'm thinking about (as finances permit) getting a second keyboard and mouse/track ball to use, so I can keep the screen higher. My dentist suggested that my head-down posture might be aggravating my TMJD.


Tirno said...

After I had laser eye surgery, I developed a very severe light sensitivity. An expected side-effect, considering that certain parts of my eyes were getting light on them that had never done so before.

I was driving into work at 4am wearing polarized sunglasses because green lights burned my eyes. I could hardly stand to look at my computer screen.

Someone mentioned F.lux, and I put it on my work computer and OH EM GEE, that was so nice. I could actually stand to look at my screen again.

John Cunningham said...

Before I retired, I had a couple of pairs of computer bifocals. the smaller section was in focus at reading distance, the bigger part of the lense was in focus at a distance of about 30 inches, which was the approx distance to the monitor. the combo was great for desk time.