5 Signs That You Are Experiencing Too Much Screen Time
Whether it's tapping out a text, scrolling through TikTok, curling up with a favorite film, or typing a lengthy email, technology is front and center in our daily lives—literally. For much of the day, our eyes are fixed on the screens directly ahead of us. But with such routine use, our eyes (and body) might start to feel the effects.
According to Dora Adamopoulos, OD, the medical advisor to The Vision Council, looking at any of your screens for more than one hour at a time, without taking a break, is too long. She says you'll need to give your eyes a rest from the light coming from your devices so your system has a chance to recharge. If you're overdoing it, your body will tell you: When you experience too much screen time, a few key symptoms often flare. Here are the most common ones—and how to reverse their impact.
Common Symptoms of Too Much Screen Time
Too much screen time is linked with digital eye strain, a physical discomfort most people feel after staring at a digital surface for two hours or more, says Dr. Adamopoulos. "Symptoms can vary, but digital eye strain typically manifests itself as dry, red, or irritated eyes; blurred vision; fatigued eyes; back, neck or shoulder pain; or headaches," she says. "As digital devices have become mainstays in our daily lives, particularly with the realities of remote work and school, digital eye strain is something more and more people are dealing with."
In a similar vein, eye irritation (independent of digital eye strain) is another symptom of too much screen time. Dr. Adamopoulos says this usually causes your eyes to start burning. The reason? You don't blink as often as you should when you are looking at your devices.
When you stare at your devices for extended periods of time, your eyes become tired and might tear up as a result, says Elena B. Roth, MD, an assistant professor of clinical ophthalmology at the University of Miami Health System. Similar to that burning sensation, watering eyes can also happen when you don't blink enough. The tears ultimately work to refresh that dryness.
Head and Body Aches
Different parts of your body might start to feel sore if you look at a screen for too long. "A lot of people report a mild ache over their eyebrows or a dull headache," says Dr. Adamopoulos, noting that headaches may arise when viewing all types of devices. If you work in front of a computer, you may feel discomfort in your neck and back: "More often than not, your posture may have shifted. Your back and neck may hurt since you're slumped over your laptop or hunched over," says says Dr. Adamopoulos.
In each of our eyes, we have six muscles that work together to control eye movements, which includes shifting our vision near and far, notes Dr. Adamopoulos. When you focus on one thing at a close, fixed distance for too long, your eye muscles will start to "spasm." This forces your eyes to work harder—they need to maintain the focus you had when you first began using your phone, tablet, or other laptop. "When you eventually look up and away from your work, you might feel like it takes longer for you to focus. Things far away may seem blurry for a short while, as well," she says.
Unfortunately, the light from your devices makes falling asleep difficult. According to Joanna Cooper, MD, a neurologist and sleep medicine specialist with the Sutter East Bay Medical Foundation, the blue light emitted from your phone and laptop can trigger the part of your brain that actually causes you to remain alert. So, if you're tossing and turning after scrolling and typing, you're likely interacting with your screens far too much and far too close to bedtime.
How to Reverse the Effects of Excess Screen Time
Thankfully, if you're experiencing any of the above symptoms, you can typically get rid of them altogether if you change the way you interact with your devices.
Rule of 20s
Start with this best practice: "Remember the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look up at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds," says Dr. Adamopoulos. "This allows your eye muscles to relax and not stay contracted." This method has other benefits, too. You will be able to blink more, stretch out your back and neck, and simply give your eyes (and brain!) a moment to rest.
Dr. Adamopoulos also suggests moving your devices further away from your face so your eyes aren't too close the screen. It's also critical to reduce your screen time altogether. And if you still can't find relief? Reach out to a professional. "If you've tried these lifestyle changes and your symptoms are persistent, it's a good idea to schedule a comprehensive exam to determine the best solution with your eye care provider," she says.