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  • Writer's pictureVesna Pejic

Headaches and Screen time

Managing screen time has always been a challenge. And then COVID 19 pandemic happened. With everyone at home people are globally spending more time performing visually demanding near tasks using digital screens, for home-based learning, work from home or during spare time.

Instead of classroom interaction in person or work from the office, we got involved in remote learning or working, meaning hours a day of screen time. As we want to interact with friends and family daily or enjoy entertainment, that brings about even more screen time. Together, it means that we are spending even more time than ever before looking at an electronic screen.

So, what is a link between extended screen time and headaches in children and adults?

Near tasks require precise and accurate coordination between visual system and the head stabilizing muscles, which necessitates a robust visual system to maintain clear and comfortable vision over time. Vision problems such as refractive errors, accommodative anomalies, or convergence deficits, can induce unhealthy postures leading to non-ergonomic viewing position, such as protruding head or asymmetrical neck postures and headaches. [1]

Further, digital screen-use has been found to cause headaches, eyestrain, and upper body musculoskeletal pain. Too much screen time may result in what is known as digital eye strain , causing symptoms like tired, itching, or burning eyes.

Eyestrain has the potential to result in headaches centered around the eyes and temples. Without good lighting, one may look at screens while squinting, and prolonged squinting may tire the muscles and lead to a tension headache. The severity of symptoms increases with vision problems, prolonged viewing time and static non-ergonomic postures. [2]

Tips for Preventing Headaches Caused by Electronic Screen Exposure

If your child is currently going to school remotely or you are working from home, it is going to be tough to reduce screen time. However, there are few tips that everyone can follow to prevent headaches caused by electronic screen exposure.

  • Tip #1 – Get Some Distance – According to experts it’s important to keep screens at least an elbow-length away from the eyes. Keeping screens too close keeps the eyes focused on the screen instead of allowing them to relax, which can lead to eye fatigue, resulting in headaches or additional vision problems.

  • Tip #2 – Don’t Use Electronics in Bed – Failing to get enough sleep can enhance a problem with tired eyes. It is advisable that you keep screens out of the bedroom, particularly at night, to prevent sleep disruption. It is also a good idea to turn off the screens an hour before bedtime.

  • Tip #3 – Encourage Breaks – It is easy to get absorbed in school, work or in fun and fail to take a break from looking at the screens. Kids and parents need to make sure they look away from their screen every 20 minutes, looking at something that is 20 feet away for a minimum of 20 seconds. It is also recommended to walk away from a screen for a few minutes each hour, if possible.

  • Tip #4 – Blink Often – Staring at screens can cut your blinking rate in half, resulting in dry eyes. Remind yourself to blink more often when using a computer, smartphone, or tablet.

  • Tip #5 – Pay Attention to Screen Position – The wrong screen position can result in poor posture, neck strain, and increase eye strain. Position screens at eye level so you do not have to bend the neck up or down for optimal viewing.

  • Tip #6 – Optimize Lighting – While the screens should not be used in dark rooms, too much light can result in glare and increase eye fatigue. Research from the Journal of Ophthalmology & Research recommends that the lighting in a room where screens are being used should be about half of what you’d use for reading a book or writing. Screens should be positioned so light does not shine directly on the screen.

  • Tip #7 – Do not Forget Vision Screenings – Regular vision screenings are critical because many kids may not speak up if they are experiencing the symptoms of eye problems. And as adults, well we like to postpone doctors’ appointments or health screenings to the last minute. Make sure your child’s vision is getting checked at every well-child visit. If any problems are detected, your child may be referred to an eye specialist.


[1] Blehm et al., 2005: de Vries et al., 2016; Dotan et al., 2014; Johnston et al., 2017; Rosenfield, 2011; Sanchez-Gonzalez et al., 2019.

[2] Blehm et al., 2005; Costigan et al., 2013; de Vries et al., 2016; Eitivipart et al., 2018; Hakala et al., 2012; Johnston et al., 2017; Kim et al., 2016; Rosenfield, 2011; Sanchez-Gonzalez et al., 2019; Wirth et al., 2018; Xie et al., 2017y

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