Watching TV Can Strain Your Eyes: Some Tips to Avoid Discomfort Watching TV Can Strain Your Eyes: Some Tips to Avoid Discomfort
Your typical day may look a little something like this: Wake up, stare at a small screen (phone). Go to work, stare at a... Watching TV Can Strain Your Eyes: Some Tips to Avoid Discomfort

Your typical day may look a little something like this: Wake up, stare at a small screen (phone). Go to work, stare at a medium-sized screen (computer), with intermittent breaks to look at the small screen again. Once you get home for the evening, maybe you take the edge off by making the final switch to the large screen (television).

Technology dominates our days, whether for work or personal use, and you’ve probably felt the headache or general fatigue around your eyes after a long day of screens. If you can’t flat-out reduce your screen time, how might you at least reduce symptoms of digital eye strain like headaches, blurry vision and dry, tired eyes?

Televisions contribute to eye strain just like any other device, even though the larger screen effects are studied less than phones and laptops. Regardless of the screen size, though, it’s a myth that blue light or even sitting too close to the screen are the chief contributors to eye strain. Experts are still trying to nail down just how screens and other things held close to the face, like books, affect eye development and risk of myopia in kids.

One of the main culprits behind digital eye strain is hidden in plain sight.

Two expert eye doctors explain why eye strain occurs, how to reduce the discomfort and how TV screens may be more comfortable to look at than phones and laptops.

For more on eye care, here are simple ways to protect your eye health and our picks for the best places to buy eyeglasses online.

The easiest way to relieve eye strain: blink!

There are loads of blue light glasses on the market, but they aren’t actually proven to reduce eye strain. That’s because blue light isn’t the main aggravating factor in the first place.

Ethan Stern, an ophthalmologist at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, says there are a few behavioral and lifestyle factors that are most accurately linked to eye strain: blinking, sleep habits and nutrition. Keeping the eyes lubricated by blinking frequently or using eye drops is the number one defense against eye strain. Eating healthy and getting good sleep can also reduce strain.

Sidney Gicheru, spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and medical director of LaserCare Eye Center in Dallas, echoed Stern’s point about most people falsely blaming blue light for eye strain, overlooking the impact of blinking. 

We normally blink around 15 times a minute. But when we use screens, we tend to only blink five to seven times a minute, Gicheru said.

So if you can remember to blink more, you’ll likely experience eye strain less. 

Practical tips to reduce eye strain

It’s a myth that sitting too close to your tech will hurt your eyes, Stern said. Still, sitting further away from your screen increases the chance of looking away from it intermittently and breaking focus on the screen every now and again, which is more comfortable on your eyes. 

Data around eye strain related to TVs, rather than phones or laptops, is limited. But Stern says he expects the greater distance between you and a TV means you’re more likely to break that focus — maybe to look at something in the periphery or talk to someone sitting next to you. 

Here are some other easy-to-use tips for reducing eye strain.

bias-lighting.jpg bias-lighting.jpg

Taylor Martin/CNET
  • Install bias lighting, which is a soft light source located behind your TV screen. This is especially helpful in a dark room or at night. It reduces the sharp contrast between the TV screen and the surrounding area, which is easier on your eyes.
  • Take breaks to encourage more blinking, reducing the risk of eye strain.
  • Keep at least 25 inches — roughly an arm’s length — away from screens if possible, according to The American Academy of Ophthalmology. Follow the 20/20/20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look off 20 feet into the distance.
  • Use artificial tears to prevent dry eyes.
  • On devices with glare, use a matte screen filter to reduce eye strain.

Another hack: Stern mentioned putting a small sticky note on your laptop that says “blink” as a reminder.

What do TV makers advise?

There’s guidance out there for how far you should sit away from your TV, provided by industry groups and TV makers. For example, Sony offers this chart for screen distance to optimize your viewing experience:

Sony’s recommended seating distance

TV size Viewing distance range (approx.)
43-inch 35 inches (2.95 feet)
49-inch 39 inches (3.28 feet)
55-inch 39 inches (3.28 feet)
65-inch 47 inches (3.94 feet)
75-inch 55 inches (4.59 feet)
85-inch 63 inches (5.25 feet)

So there’s plenty of advice for how to get the best experience from an entertainment perspective, but the best-case scenario may be finding the sweet spot between the best vantage point for viewing experience and eye health.

Adjusting these TV settings may help with eye strain too

Some TV manufacturers have settings to reduce blue light: LG and Samsung both call it Eye Comfort mode, and Hisense calls it Eye Care mode. Other makers, like TCL, allow you to manually shift the color temperature of their TV to emit warmer light.

While these experts pointed out that blue light isn’t the source of eye strain, these settings do still have utility.

Some people find increased comfort by switching their device to warmer light (sometimes called Night Mode) because it reduces glare on the screen. This helps the eyes adjust to surrounding light and reducing the risk of strain caused by glare, Gicheru said. Blue light affects our sleep-wake cycle, making warmer light modes especially helpful in the hour or two before you go to bed.

Will adjusting the color temperature from bluer (cool) to redder (warm) on your TV affect the picture quality? The short answer is yes. When you shift the color temperature, also called white balance, you may alter how the director intended the content to be viewed. Most shows and movies are intended to be viewed at a relatively warm 6,500K. That’s the color temperature CNET considers the most accurate for TV reviews.

The difference is usually subtle, unless you’re comparing an array of TVs side-by-side, like we do in CNET’s TV lab. If you make the change on a single TV at home, your eyes will likely adjust to the new color temperature after watching for a few minutes.

Our screen usage isn’t likely to decrease anytime soon, or ever, and some degree of eye strain is likely inevitable. But Gicheru said that while eye strain is uncomfortable, it won’t affect your long-term eye health. 

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