Is Smartphone Nearsightedness Really A Thing?

SUMMARY POINTS

​> Smartphones don’t cause nearsightedness and neither do any other screens
> Constant close-up work and lack of natural sunlight are the culprits
> Lots of near-vision work can abnormally set your vision to closer focal points
> Take care of your eyes with regular breaks to reduce the effects

Ever since the introduction of smartphones, the amount of time we spend looking at a screen has sky-rocketed.

We spend the majority of our work day staring at a computer monitor that’s only a couple of feet away from our face. Then, at every free moment we have, we reach for our smartphones and scan through social media, read and reply to personal messages, browse music selections etc.

Hell, even when we’re sitting on the toilet at work, we’re looking at something on our smartphones. It’s the perfect opportunity to browse and kill some time while you’re taking care of bodily business. You can flip through your fav social channels, check out specials on Amazon, scan through personal emails, etc.

At night, we go back-n-forth between the smartphone and another screen.

You’re swiping through photos and mindlessly scrolling through Instagram on your smartphone while at the same time, binge-watching your favorite Netflix shows.

You’ve been doing this back-n-forth viewing for years without a second thought. Then one day, when you looked up from your smartphone screen, it took your eyes much longer than normal to focus.

What da fuck?

You blink a few times and shake it off.

It didn’t last long but it was enough to freak you out a little.

You’ve read stories about kids developing myopia (nearsightedness) - seemingly because of screen time. And now, it’s finally caught up with you and you feel like your vision is getting worse.

Now you’re worried that all that smartphone screen time may be ruining your vision.

After all, that’s when your vision started to get all fuzzy and slow. It’s no surprise that smartphones have developed a bad rep. But, are they really to blame for vision problems?

The Rise Of Nearsightedness At Work

So, what is nearsightedness or myopia?

It’s when you can see things close to you perfectly. However, when you look at something farther away, the objects look blurry or fuzzy.

For some people, this is a genuine vision problem that needs sight correction. For others, it’s a temporary issue - often because of the amount of time spent staring closely at screens.

As most of us work in office environments, we spend most of the day looking at our computer monitors. It could be upwards of 6-8 hours with some sessions lasting as long as a couple of solid uninterrupted hours.

When we have a few minutes of free time, we reach for our smartphones and glance at that for awhile.

Then, we’re heads down into hardcopy paper handouts that some asshat printed in microscopic font size.

Because of all this near-vision fixed-distance work, our eyes get used to the intense focus at that short fixed distance.

Then, when you change things up and look at something else farther away in the distance, your eyes can take a while to catch up.

It’s like your eyesight’s auto-focus function is getting laggy like an old smartphone camera.

This little eye test video explains the whole auto-focus thing quite well.

VIDEO: How Good Is Your Eyesight? (TEST)
YOUTUBE: AsapSCIENCE
LENGTH: 1:45

Summary points:
> This is better known as “beer goggles” at the bar
> Everyone looks much hotter after a few beers and from a distance
> Marilyn and Albert as the same image? That’s beauty and brains!

The good news is that if you give your eyes a chance to rest, this settles down.

You’ve probably found this yourself. After the initial scare, your eyes readjust to the focus change and you carry on as normal. It just seems like it’s taking longer these days.

It’s disorientating but it doesn’t mean you’re doing permanent damage to your eyes.

But it is a sign you need to take care of your eyes and minimize the effects of screen time. 

Why Your Smartphone Isn’t The Cause

You might assume it’s your smartphone screen that’s causing your eyesight problems. After all, it’s the screen you use the most intensely up close, usually less than an arm’s length away.

And, you really notice your laggy eyesight focus after you’ve been staring at your smartphone screen.

So, this must be the culprit, right?

Here’s the thing: there’s no solid, conclusive evidence to say that smartphones (or any screens in general) cause vision problems.

Sure, it’s probably not great to be using them 24/7 - especially without any breaks.

Much of this assumption stems from the old myth that staring at TV screens causes near-sightedness. It’s just been updated to include smartphones now.

But there are other factors involved and these can be more damaging than screen time. 

Extended Close Up Viewing & Lack Of Natural Sunlight Are The Bigger Culprits

It’s not your smartphone, tablet or computer monitor that’s to blame. The bigger problem is how and where you’re using them.

Most of us have crappy posture when we’re using computer monitors or laptops. We sit hunched over and right on top of the screen.

It’s a similar story with smartphones and e-readers. The average person holds the screen close to their face - much closer than we need.

This is the near-vision work we talked about at the start of the piece.

Your eyes quickly get used to this and adapt to the closer distance. This is great until you need to look at something farther away. While you’ve been doing near-vision viewing, your eye has normalized to that close distance and the change back takes some adjustment.

That blurry vision you get when you switch back to distance work is a direct result of this.

To make matters worse, most of us do near-vision work for extended periods, typically indoors. We stare at screens for hours on end, often until it feels like our eyeballs are completely dried up.

Because we’re so trapped with close-up screen work, there’s far less opportunity for varied distance viewing, particularly outside. The screens keep us all indoors.

As a result, we’re indoors more than ever now. It’s this lack of exposure to natural sunlight that has been noted as one of the most probable reasons for the huge increases in myopia in the modern world.

In fact, this study indicates that lack of sunlight can be a strong factor in nearsightedness.

Think about it. Those kids in the study with myopia haven’t just been staring at screens. They’ve also been failing to get much natural sunlight too. And this is arguably a bigger factor than screen time.

The focus imbalance between long duration indoor “up close” viewing versus outdoor distance viewing in natural sunlight is a big factor in temporary vision changes. However, it can be rectified with a few changes to your lifestyle. 

Tips For Maintaining Clearer Vision & Reducing Eye Fatigue

Your eyes go through a lot on an average day.

Think about it - you’re staring at your computer monitor most of the workday and then hitting up social media or Netflix when you get home. And if you’re truly honest about it, you’re probably scrolling through social media while you’re catching up on shows.

This screen time takes a toll on your eyes. Have you noticed your eyes are feeling tired, sore and gritty most days? It’s likely because they’re getting hardly any time to relax before bedtime.

Near-vision viewing is a big factor in this. Since your eyes are constantly focusing on the shorter distance, they get normalized to this set distance and also tire quickly because of the closer focal point.

So, here are a few ways to mix it up at work.

1) Use The 20/20/20 Rule 

Take a 20-second break every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away. Blink a few times while you do this. When you’re staring at screens, you blink less. This is one reason why screen time can lead to dry and itchy eyes.

Using the 20/20/20 rule forces your eyes to do something different. Your near-vision work is interrupted and this gives your eyes a chance to relax and re-lubricate itself.

Set a timer for every 20 minutes if you think you’ll forget.

We’ve all been there. You dive down into an urgent Powerpoint presentation and don’t come up for air for three hours straight.

Not good.

Instead, click the save button every 20 minutes and then, spin around in your chair and look across the floor or room. This way, you’ll be saving your work and your eyeballs at the same time.

Take the 20/20/20 rule a step further by getting up and looking out the window. As an added bonus, it gets you moving too. 

2) Escape Your Cubicle & Get Outside 

Or better still, get away from your screen and get outside for a little stress break and eye relief.

Getting outside serves two important purposes.

First, it forces you to take a break from your screen and use your break more productively. Taking breaks at your desk doesn’t count and isn’t really effective. You need to get up and get out.

Second, it also exposes you to natural light and fresh air, both of which most of us don’t get enough of.

Between work, home, and the commute, getting outside with Mother Nature can be next to impossible sometimes. Use the time at work to get outside and get some natural light and fresh air every once in awhile.

When it comes to near-vision work, this lack of sunlight can compound the problems.

When we’re looking at screens, we’re usually indoors. Most of us are chained to our desks.

All those hours you’ve spent staring at your work monitor, scrolling on your phone and binging on Netflix isn't the main problem. They just exacerbate things. It’s the fact that you’re indoors most of the time you’re doing this.

Even for people who already have myopia, spending time outdoors can reduce the progression. Sure, it won’t fix this type of vision problem, but it can slow things down so it doesn’t get worse.

So, head out for a walk on your lunch break, take a stroll at the park or hike some trails on the weekend. Try to get at least an hour of exposure to sunlight every day. 

3) Don’t Get Too Close To Your Screens

Be honest with yourself on this one. How close are you to your screen?

Most of us are way too close, which only exaggerates the extended close-up viewing we’ve been talking about.

You can hear your mom and dad yelling, “Move back from the TV! You’re gonna ruin your eyes!” Remember that?

There’s an easy way to change this.

You just have to put a bit more distance between yourself and your devices. If you slip back into old habits, check yourself and up the distance.

Keep them at least 18 inches from your face, preferably more like 24 inches. This helps change the focus and reduces the effects of near-vision viewing.

Your work monitor should be no closer than an arm’s length.

Keep your screens at just below eye level. This keeps eye strain to a minimum.

Close-vision work is even more likely to cause vision problems if you’re right on top of your device and it’s at the wrong level.

Keep a reasonable distance away and give your eyes something different to focus on. 

4) Adjust Your Screen Settings 

This one isn’t a direct factor in nearsightedness. However, if your eyes are already feeling the effects of lots of screen time, it can make things worse.

Take a look at your screen settings.

Is the brightness on the high side? Turn it down a notch and your eyes will likely feel much better.

Is the default font size forcing you to squint more than you should? Up the font size a bit.

Is there any glare from the sun or other overhead lighting?

Too much glare can be uncomfortable for your eyes and mess with your focus. If so, reposition your monitor or ask IT for an anti-glare screen/film to place over your monitor. 

5) Hang An Eye Chart On The Wall

Sure, this one might bring up thoughts of the eye doctor but it’s surprisingly effective.

There are a bunch of funny eye charts from Google that you can download, print out on an 11x17 portrait mode paper and then pin to your cubicle wall.

Set the chart far enough away so you can see half way down the chart clearly. It doesn’t matter if the rest is fuzzy or you can’t make out the letters at all.

Let your eyes move across the letters but don’t squint to see the lower rows. Just let your eyes focus as best as they can. It’s another exercise in changing focus.

When you’re viewing the letters further away, it encourages your eyes to do some distance viewing. That change in focus gives your eyes a much-needed break from near-vision work. 

6) Blink & Close Your Eyes Every So Often

About the only time our eyes get any real meaningful amount of rest is during sleep.

However, with all that we do with our eyes throughout the day, from spotting crazy commuters on the drive, reading emails, staring at excel numbers, scanning wordy documents, etc, we never really give our eyes a break.

When we’re reading or looking at anything on a screen, we tend to blink less - a lot less. In fact, this Columbia study proves that we only blink about 4-5 times per minute while reading versus 26 times during a conversation.

Each of those blinks helps to lubricate our eyes. And, with less blinking, there’s less lubrication, leading to dry eye syndrome and blurred vision.

So, when you feel the slightest amount of dryness in your eyes, close your eyes for a few seconds then blink a few times. This will naturally re-distribute your tears around your eyes.

Get Outside & Give Your Eyes A Break!

With books, work monitors, hardcopy handouts, smartphone screens, magazines, etc. we’re constantly working our eyes at short distances for long periods of time in indoor environments.

And it’s this type of viewing that making our vision get all wonky.

Heavy screen time (smartphone or otherwise) probably won’t damage your eyes. However, it could cause temporary nearsightedness or blurriness when you try to re-focus on something far away.

So, don’t freak out if you’ve been seeing fuzzy objects in the distance after hours of social media scrolling or a long screen-filled day at work. It’s most likely digital eye strain.

Just take it as a sign you need to give your eyes a break.

Schedule in plenty of vision breaks and break up close-up viewing with distance viewing. Your eyes will thank you for it!

On that note, it’s time that you take a vision break now.

Get up from your seat, get out of your cube and take a 5-minute walk outside in the fresh air and natural light.

Seriously.

We’re heading out right now too.

Feel Better,
[Cubicle|Therapy]