If you're an avid reader, but you also spend most of your day staring at computer screens for work, your eyes may be feeling the effects of that extra screen time. Fortunately, there are a few simple shifts you can make to indulge in your love of books without stressing your eyes.
Whether you're currently dealing with eyestrain or you're simply worried about it, read on for some ophthalmologist-approved advice.
1. Reduce screen glare.
You might think that using a matte screen is the only way to reduce glare, but try dimming the lights to reduce the glare on your phone or tablet when reading. "If you are reading in bed with the lights low, using a shiny screen versus a matte screen won’t make much difference," says Dr. Sunir Garg, MD, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and a professor of ophthalmology at Wills Eye Hospital. "If you read in a bright room, there would be less glare with the matte screen, making for an easier time."
2. Increase the font size to your comfort level.
There's no shame in wanting to read a bigger font — and, no, reading in a bigger font doesn't mean you have poor vision or that you're getting old. "You should do whatever feels easiest for you," says Garg. "Most people will be happy with a 12-point font, but others might like 14-point. There’s a point where the font gets so large that reading speed can start to go down, but there’s no harm in using a larger font. If the font gets too small, that can make reading tedious, but that size will differ between people."
Pro tip: If you’re constantly losing your place, or skipping sections, your font is probably too small. Anecdotally, many people who have no problem with small fonts in print books still prefer larger fonts on the screen.
3. Pause and give your eyeballs a reset.
Reading for pleasure is great, but your eyes still need a break, the same as they would if you were working on a report for your boss. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends readjusting and resetting your eyes using the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look away from the screen at an object roughly 20 feet away from you. Look at that object for 20 seconds.
4. Fix your posture.
There's some speculation eyestrain may be caused in part by poor posture, not the screen itself. As you stare at the computer, tablet or phone screen, you may notice your head starts to tilt down and your neck starts to move forward. That neck tension can make eyestrain and the associated headaches much more noticeable, says chiropractor Paul Paez, DC. You don't have to perfect your posture 100% of the time, but check in regularly and try to shift positions when going from working to reading. If you spend all day at a computer, investing in a standing setup for some of the workday may help avoid some of the pitfalls of spending all of your work and leisure time on screens.
5. Don't stress about night mode.
If you find that shifting to night mode — black background, white text — irritates you, don't force yourself to use it. "It's personal preference," Garg says. "Some people like the traditional black on white look, but occasionally people prefer the inverse of that; the contrast used in night mode is meant to help our eyes adjust more easily to our surroundings and can lead to more comfortable reading."
6. Avoid too much light before bed.
"One of the great things about tablets is they are backlit, or lit from the inside, which is why a lot of people use them to read in bed, and they don’t have to worry about waking up their partner," Garg says. This is great — but make sure you're not struggling to get to sleep once you've finished that last chapter. If you are, you may want to keep your tablet out of the bedroom and spend the hour before bed chatting or writing in a journal rather than looking at a screen. "Before the industrial revolution, most people woke up with the sun and went to sleep when the sun went down. We still have circadian rhythms, this natural wake and sleep cycle, and light — whether from the sun or from the screens we use — continues to wake us up and stimulates us.”
“This means a lot of light exposure just before going to sleep can affect people’s sleep patterns, so less light before bed can be a helpful way to maintain good sleep hygiene,” he adds. “If people are having trouble falling asleep after using devices late at night, the American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests turning off the screens 1–2 hours before bed."
7. Switch to an audiobook.
Fortunately, if you want to read before bed, but know that the light from your phone keeps you awake much later than you'd prefer, you can opt for the audiobook version. Many of the titles on Scribd are also available in audiobook form, so you can easily shift to listening. You may also find other titles you're interested in that aren't available in book form but are on the app as audiobooks. If you're struggling to get to sleep and want something soothing, there are dozens of classics like Pride and Prejudice that can gently lull you into a state of cozy relaxation.