Computer Fatigue

Linnea Osterberg

As the end of term approaches and my to-do list grows, I have found myself spending more and more time on my computer. As much as I love my laptop, I have noticed that the more time I spend staring at my computer, the more I am prone to headaches, dry & irritated eyes, and eye strain. This is a common problem for most people, so today I thought I would share some useful tips for reducing “computer fatigue”.

1. The 20-20-20 Rule

This is an often cited rule which I have included because it works. Every 20 minutes take 20 seconds to look away from your computer screen and focus on something at least 20 feet away from you. For those with an apple computer there is a nifty free app called Time Out Free which will dim out your screen for a set amount of time every x minutes. You can even customize it so that certain programs (such as Skype, iTunes, and DVDplayer) will disable to dim-out feature when they are being used. There are many other such applications for Mac, I just happen to use Time Out Free and really like it. Computers running GNU/Linux or Microsoft Windows need not worry, there are plenty of similar programs out there for your systems. One which looks promising is Workrave (I do not have a windows computer so I have not tested it for myself but online reviews look good).

I put this first because taking small, regular breaks to stretch & rest your eyes is one of the best things you can do to prevent eye strain and headaches.


2. Step Back

I often find that as the day goes on and I become more tired, my face starts to inch closer and closer to my computer screen. This actually increases the strain on your eyes instead of decreasing it. So, as you work on your computer or text on your phone, make a conscious effort to keep a “normal” distance between yourself and whatever screen you are looking at. What I mean by that is imagine you are reading a magazine, book, or newspaper. The amount of distance between your face and print media is roughly the same amount of distance that should be between your face and electronic media. If that means having to adjust the font on your computer screen to make it bigger, so be it!

3. Position

When setting up to use your computer, both the position of the computer and of your body are very important. Make sure that there are no windows/ceiling fixtures/sources of light directly behind your computer causing a glare on the screen. Glare makes your eyes work harder and therefore puts more strain on them.

Also, make sure that light coming in from a window is diffused by a blind or light curtain. While natural light is great in any work environment, the contrast between a bright window and a darker office can, again, put a strain on your eyes. By pulling down a light curtain/blind, you lower the contrast between the outside light and the light in your office, which lowers the strain on your eyes.

Body position in front of a computer is also crucial. Good ergonomic position helps keep you from straining any neck or shoulder muscles that can tense up and give you headaches. In order to achieve this, find a comfy office chair the offers good back support. Sit up straight (but not ram-rod straight – maintain the natural curve in your back) and face the computer squarely. Rest the computer on a flat surface that is slightly lower than your elbows while sitting. You should be able to comfortably rest your forearms on the surface holding your computer. As you type keep your wrists straight (this does not mean your forearms must be sticking out straight from your elbows – I prefer to make a slight V with my arms with the tip of the V point towards the computer).

4. Screen Brightness

Anyone planning to use a computer/electronic screen device for an extended period of time should pay close attention to the screen brightness. Look around the area where you are working and try to match your screen’s brightness to the surrounding light. When you look at the screen it should not appear significantly brighter or darker than the surrounding area.

5. MOVE!

Remember to change position often (e.g. do a stretch during an eye-resting break, wiggle your toes, shuffle-step with your feet under the desk, etc.). Making a point of getting up to stretch or move around at least once every 30 minutes will help keep your circulation up and will leave you feeling less stiff and tired when you finish working.

6. Hydration

This is more of a general health tip but it is still a good one – make sure you drink plenty of water as you work. Staying hydrate keeps you energized and helps prevent headaches. Refilling your water bottle or going to the bathroom are also great break opportunities to get you up and away from your computer screen for a few minutes.


Computers are here to stay, both as a part of our work- and home-life. It is important and easy to make sure our usage habits don’t injure our bodies, especially our eyes. Remember: Small breaks save eyes!





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