The main job of a programmer is to provide commands to computers to allow applications and software programs to work correctly. Therefore, it is not a secret for programmers to be exposed to a longer number of hours in front of the computer. Programming, despite being a low-impact activity, can put your eyes at risk if you don’t practice healthy habits.
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Are you Suffering From Computer Vision Syndrome?
Have you ever heard of computer vision syndrome before? The American Optometric Association defines computer vision syndrome as a group of eye-related and vision-related problems from the result of activities that stress the vision when a person uses for a long number of hours an electronic device such as computer, table, e-readers, and cellphone use.
Although most people nowadays constantly check their computers and phones, programmers easily fall into the category of heavy computer users. If a normal working routine is considered to be of 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week, that means programmers are using almost 100 percent of that time staring at the screen.
Things can quickly become worst as there are a number of factors that can influence the number of hours programmers spend working, going from 8 hours a day to easily more than 10 hours a day programming to meet project deadlines.
If you are a programmer, chances are you have suffered from computer vision syndrome at least once. However, how can you recognize if you have experienced this syndrome? The following is a list of common symptoms caused by computer vision syndrome:
- Blurred vision
- Double vision
- Dry Eyes
- Red Eyes
- Eye irritation
- Neck or back pain
- Eye Strain
- Eye Fatigue
What exactly causes computer vision syndrome?
As with anything in life, too much of something is bad for you. Too much exercise can cause injuries, too little exercise can weaken your body. Too much food can cause obesity, too little can cause chronic fatigue. The same way happens with staring at electronic devices.
Let’s say you spend time reading articles and staying informed on what is important for you every day. This is something it hasn’t changed. What has changed has been the way the information is delivered. Although you can still read newspapers, it is more common to see people using their phones and laptops to read the news.
What you don’t notice is that without realizing it, your eyes are working more to read the same piece of information. Your eyes need to work when looking at a digital screen as digital text isn’t as sharp as written words printed on a page.
You can quickly tell a difference between a blurry picture and a cristal clear picture. Whenever the picture is clear, your eyes don’t have to work as much to process the elements that are part of the picture, contrary to when is blurry. The constant improvement of resolution in cameras, phones, computers seem to be used as a marketing strategy to sell more products rather than showing the long-term benefits it can have on the overall health of your eyes.
Different Ways to Protect your Eyes
As a former college athlete and now a professional software engineer, I never thought I was going to land a desk job. It only took a few months to start recognizing a common problem after programming for hours: My eyes were exhausted.
I decided to make different changes in my routine to keep my eyes from getting tired. Surprisingly, these changes have not only improved my overall health but also my productivity. I’ll share with you different ways you can take care of your eyes as a programmer:
1. Reduce Screen Time
As you know, computer vision syndrome is the result of staring at the screen for too long. Reducing screen time will help prevent eye problems. This might sound very easy to say and hard to do when the job of a programmer is mainly about working in front of the computer.
One of the things that could help, especially if you have a computer job, is to avoid doing other activities that involve staring at digital screens. For example, rather than watching TV after a long day of work, go for a walk, exercise, mow the yard, cook a meal for your family, or do anything that is important for you. The key is to stay away from activities that involve looking at a digital screen.
Another option is to avoid working past normal hours. By normal hours I mean, longer than 8 hours in a day as your eyes have to work harder to focus after constantly reading the computer. Programmers often work more hours due to project deadlines and stress to deliver on time.
Remember to take care of yourself rather than trying to be the hero to make things work. It is better to deliver work when you are at your 100% than crappy code because of not being rested, and your eyes need to rest too.
2. Turn on the Lights
Also, there is a reason why you see pictures of programmers working in dark spaces. Despite the sun is a good source of energy for us, having that glare on your screen can make your eyes work even more as well. However, working in darker spaces is not good either.
There is a reason why your parents used to tell you to turn on the lights when you are reading. According to most eye doctors, reading in the dark won’t cause lasting damages to your vision. However, reading in the dark will lead to eye strain.
A similar way happens to programmers who like working in the dark. Just like any part of the muscle of your body, eyes can get tired and overworked. One effective way to keep your eyes from overworking is to turn the lights on. If you are experiencing eye strain because you’ve been programming in the dark, it’s time to take a few steps and switch a couple of lamps on.
3. Adjust Screen Settings or Switch Monitors
Adjusting your screen settings is a quick and easy fix for anyone looking to make a difference now. Adjusting the brightness can greatly reduce eye strain. For example, you can adjust the brightness of the screen based on the time of the day. Increase the brightness whenever you are working during the daytime, or rather lower the brightness when it is dark.
Adjusting the screen contrast can take away some of that stress to your vision. According to the EyeQue Team, most people are comfortable with contrast around 60 to 70 percent. However, remember that everyone is different. What works for others might not work for you. Hence, it is recommended to not follow blindly this advice, but instead adjusting the contrast up to the point when you see the text standing out from the background.
Having a low screen resolution means putting more stress on your eyes. It is a good idea to start thinking about switching monitors if yours don’t have a good resolution. If your monitor is provided by your employer, consider requesting a new monitor explaining the benefits it can have on your wellness.
When looking for a new monitor, consider looking for monitors with a high refresh rate (Hz). The refresh rate means the number of times per second the display is able to draw a new image. The higher the refresh rate, the better as this results in a smoother-looking experience that is easy for your eyes. If you don’t know where to start, there are a few options you can check out online that are affordable:
|ASUS VL249HE 23.8” Eye Care Monitor, 1080P Full HD, 75Hz, IPS, Adaptive-Sync/FreeSync, Eye Care, HDMI VGA, Frameless Slim Design, VESA Wall Mountable||Amazon|
|ASUS VL279HE 27” Eye Care Monitor, 1080P Full HD (1920 x 1080), IPS, 75Hz, Adaptive-Sync, FreeSync, HDMI D-Sub, Frameless, Slim, Wall Mountable, Flicker Free and Blue Light Filter,BLACK||Amazon|
|ASUS Designo MX27UC 27” Monitor 4K UHD IPS DP HDMI USB Type-C Eye Care Monitor with Adaptive Sync||Amazon|
|BenQ EW2780 27-inch 1080p Eye-Care IPS LED Monitor 75Hz, HDRi, HDMI, Speakers, Black||Amazon|
|ASUS VA27EHE 27” Eye Care Monitor Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS 75Hz Adaptive-Sync HDMI D-Sub Frameless||Amazon|
4. Adjust Monitor Positioning
A good rule of thumb is to adjust the height of your monitor up to where the top of the screen is at eye level or 1″-2″ below. Positioning the monitor too high can lead to fatigue in the neck muscles as well as open your eyes wider and reduce your blinking rate, which is a contributing factor for dried and fatigued eyes.
If your monitor doesn’t have a way to adjust the height, try putting some books and adjust the height accordingly. If you don’t like that alternative, you can find buy monitor stands or arm mounts if you want a more robust solution:
|Laptop Riser Stand Portable – Lamicall Ergonomic Computer & Notebook Stand Holder for Desk, Foldable Laptop Lift, Height Adjustable, Compatible with MacBook Air Pro, Dell XPS, HP (10-15.6”)||Amazon|
|WALI Monitor Stand Riser for Computer, Laptop, Printer, Notebook and All Flat Screen Display with Vented Metal Platform and 3 Height Adjustable Underneath Storage, 1 Pack, Black||Amazon|
|VIVO Dual LCD LED 13 to 27 inch Monitor Desk Mount Stand, Heavy Duty Fully Adjustable, Fits 2 Screens, STAND-V002||Amazon|
If you like tilting the screen, make sure the tilt doesn’t create reflect glare. A quick way to determine whether there is glare on your monitor is by turning it off. If you notice there are brighter spots where the glare is reflected, it is time to adjust the tilt of the monitor or think about moving the monitor to a place where it doesn’t get as much glare.
5. Follow the 20/20/20 Rule
For those who don’t know the 20/20/20 rule, it means every 20 minutes spent looking at a screen, a person should look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This can be a rather challenging rule to follow, especially for software developers who are “in the zone”. Being “in the zone” is a way for programmers to say they are focused on putting code as the thoughts are flowing smoothly allowing them to get the job done quicker.
However, the 20/20/20 rule is a good reminder for programmers to take frequent breaks. A good idea is to set a timer every 20 minutes to keep you disciplined. However, if your productivity is affected by having frequent breaks, try setting timers in intervals of 60 minutes, 45 minutes, or 30 minutes. Everyone will be different. Try different intervals on different days and determine which option works best to find a good balance between breaks and productivity.
6. Invest in Blue Light Computer Protection Glasses
Did you know the largest source of blue light comes from sunlight? The blue light exposure programmers get from a computer screen is small compared to the exposure from the sun. If that’s the case, why should we bother about it? In fact, exposure to blue light can have its benefits according to Prevent Blindness, an organization with the mission to prevent blindness and preserve sights, such as boosting alertness, helping memory and cognitive function, and more.
There is one point to take into consideration. The distance between the earth and the sun is more than 92 million miles. The distance between the computer screen and our eyes is about at least 20 inches. The proximity and length of time spent looking at the screen can lead to eyestrain and retina damage.
There is a reason when many pro-gamers wear their gaming glasses, as it protects their eyes and improves their game performance. Gaming glasses can have a yellowish tint in the lenses. However, you can always find blue light protection glasses without these tint colors in the lenses.
As a programmer, I wear gaming glasses that have blue light protection even if I don’t play video games. Before wearing them, I used to get tired after a day of coding, assuming a normal 8-hour workday. Could you think how exhausted I was when working more than 10 hours? After starting using them, this is not a problem anymore and it has helped me to improve my productivity.
In my personal opinion, wearing blue light protection glasses is what every programmer should do regardless of how funny they think they look on them. I’m a big fan of Gunnar gaming glasses, especially with the yellowish coloring in the lenses. Seeing the screen through the yellowish lenses makes me feel it softens the bright white contrast you typically find in screens.
I use the Gunnar Torpedo glasses and they have been worth every single penny I paid for them which you can find below:
However, there are a variety of other styles Gunnar has as well as other options that have a clear tint in the lenses.
Initially, you might think these glasses are expensive. On the other hand, once you buy them, you won’t ever have to buy them anymore, unless you break them. By the way, you don’t need any prescription to get them. With Amazon, you can always order the glasses and return them after a few days if they don’t feel comfortable or you don’t like them.
7. Make the Text Larger
Depending on what kind of development programmers work on, whether it is web development, app development, mobile development, etc. there will be common applications they use to do their job. A typical software developer will use their favorite browser, their favorite IDE, and the terminal.
If you are a programmer, How often have you found yourself getting closer to the screen because you cannot read the words clearly with any of these tools? Depending on the screen resolution and the distance between your eyes and the screen, the text can be a little small.
Fortunately, you can adjust the zoom settings accordingly to make the letters look larger. Those who use Visual Studio Code as their IDE of choice, they can also adjust the editor’s settings and increase the font size to make the text larger
8. Take your Vision Problem to the Doctor, Not to Work
Everyone should take care of their vision. However, programmers should take extra measurements as they are in high exposure to computer screens, whether it is working or coding for fun. Any programmer should be thinking about having yearly visits to the eye doctor as a prevention mechanism. If you have been having health issues related to your eyes, you should visit the eye doctor as soon as possible instead of trying to keep programming.
There is no way around programmers not being exposed to the computer screen for long hours on an everyday basis. Taking steps to take care of your eyes can be as simple as adjusting computer settings or getting blue light computer protection glasses. The important aspect is to get into healthy habits that protect your eyes. At the end of the day, they play an important role in the life of a programmer.
Do you have other tips that I didn’t mention in the post? Feel free to share in the comments below.