Is too much screen time slowing our reading speeds?

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

No one can deny that digital devices have a strong and evergrowing presence in our lives. Smartphones, tablets, computers or whichever devices we favour can play a prominent role and, unfortunately, can cause tired eyes and digital eye strain, or what’s known as ‘computer vision syndrome’ (CVS).

Symptoms of CVS include eye strain, headaches, red or tired eyes and blurred vision.

And now new research suggests that another symptom could be slower reading speeds.

As reported today in Business Insider Australia, a reading test developed by UK optometrists Lenstore found that over-65 year olds are 14 per cent quicker at reading than 35-44 year olds, and also faster than 25-34 year olds.

“Research has shown how those in the older group look at screens the least, while people aged 16-44 spend more time in front of them, raising questions about how prolonged screen usage could affect our eyesight and reading ability,” the publication reports.  

“Symptoms associated with prolonged screen time, such as dry eyes and blurred vision, are suggested to be the reason that young people, who are regularly looking at screens, were outperformed by those who are older,” a spokesperson from Lenstore said.

For most of us, our eyes prefer to focus further than six metres away, so viewing a computer screen forces our eyes to work harder. Often the type we are viewing on a digital device can be small or unclear, and glare is emitted off the screen from the blue light. Also, while it’s normal for us to blink about 15 times a minute, studies have shown that we blink far less often while using digital devices.

The combination of these unique characteristics and our eyes having to work harder can often lead to difficulty. The extent to which people experience visual symptoms often depends on the level of their visual abilities and the amount of time looking at a digital screen.

Tips for minimising eye strain when using digital devices

  • Sit at least an arm’s length from the computer screen, and try not to hold your tablet or smartphone too close to your eyes.
  • Take regular breaks using the 20/20/20 rule: every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away (six metres), for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use lubricant eye-drops or artificial tears to refresh your eyes when they feel dry. Consider using a humidifier if working in an air-conditioned or heated environment.
  • Avoid using screens in an otherwise dark room and set up computer screens so there are not reflections from windows on the screen.
  • Apps and programs like F.Lux and Apple Night Shift can help reduce blue light from LED screens, particularly helpful for those using devices late at night.
  • Common conditions such as myopia, hyperopia, astigmatism or presbyopia can exacerbate eye strain so ensure you have regular eye examinations with your optometrist to maintain good vision, for life.

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