For most, the three most important parts of your body when it comes to programming are our fingers, brain and eyes.
Out of these three I want to focus on the eyes.
Fingers interface with the computer and our brains solve the actual problems, but our eyes and vision is what’s important so that we can what we are doing.
Neglecting your vision can be as bad as neglecting any one of the three. Not taking care of your vision and eyes can result in you working sub-optimally This post will cover some tips to help look after your eyes, allowing you to work with better efficiency.
Get your Eyes Tested
Even if you do not wear glasses or you think your eyes are fine, but if you never had an eye exam before or if you haven’t had an eye exam in the last two years, I would urge you to have your eye examined. There are a number of reason why you should, ranking from less sinister to most:
- You may have a slight prescription or a small change to your current prescription and you did not realise. Getting this prescription may improve your visual comfort
- Certain eye diseases like glaucoma do not have any symptoms. That is, you won’t notice you have it until its too late.
There are three prominent issues with your eyes that can result in discomfort when you are using a monitor. These are:
- A prescription – this means your eyes are not correctly focused for the task (e.g. eyes of individuals with long-sight work harder to focus up close that those with normal sight)
- You eyes not working together. Like binoculars: your eyes need to not only be in focus but they need to line up
- Dry eye – the front of the eye is lined with a layer of fluid. When this layer is lacking, this can lead to dry eye resulting in eye discomfort
The issues above can be detected in an eye examination. This is not an exclusive list, but this would be the most common eye issues that can affect your ability to code for long periods of time.
Normally, you should have your eyes examined once every two years. Depending on your age, condition of your eyes, or if you use contact lenses, you may be seen earlier and this is determined by your eye care professional.
If you haven’t booked in for an eye exam in a while (or ever), I would strong recommend booking in when you get the opportunity.
Your monitor should be:
- at arm’s length distance
- at a height, where the top of the screen is eye-level
By having you monitor at arms length, your eyes work less than if the monitor were closer. The ability for your eyes to focus up close is called accommodation. The closer something is, the more you eyes accommodate. The more they accommodate, the more they have to work. And if something works more for a long period of time, it gets strained. Hence having your monitor an arms length away will reduce this strain.
Don’t believe me? Try this. Bring your finger right up to your nose and look at it. It may even start to get blurry. If you hold this focus for awhile, you may notice how your eyes start to ache. This is because they are accommodating.
Having the top of the monitor at eye level is more comfortable for you eyes. Your eyes will converge slightly, and when they do, its easier for them to do this when looking slightly down. Note: we don’t want to monitor too low because this can result in postural issues
Try it. Look at your finger, is is easier to look at it when it is slightly higher or slightly lower? Also, notice, when looking down, the upper lids will come slightly down as well. This means less of your eye is exposed to the air. With less exposure to the air, your eyes have dry out less.
Dry eyes can result in discomfort when using a monitor and it is important to combat against this.
American Ophthalmology Association recommends every 20 minutes take a break for 20 seconds by looking 20 feet away. Remember about accommodation, how your eyes are constantly focusing up close for a while? They can get tired from this. Imagine holding a weight with your arm outstretch for hours.
If you look 20 feet away (or 6 meters if you are in the metric world), this is an adequate distance that allows you eyes to relax so the do not fatigue.
20 minutes maybe too short and restrictive, so you can lengthen this out. But do not take breaks only when you are tired. You want to to take a break when you start feeling a small drop in flow. Justin Sung explains this in his video about breaks (more to do when mental breaks but this can apply to your eyes as well), where he talks about taking a break when you start to feel a dip. By the time you hit rock bottom, it is often too late to make a decent recovery.
Breaks can help with eye strain, where this helps with relaxing the muscles that are responsible for focus. As well as this, since your blink rate is reduces when you use the computer. Blinking is important in spreading the tear film (the fluid) over the front part of your eye. Reduced blinking means less spreading of this tear film. Breaks will allow this to replenish.
Dark Mode and Bias Lighting
Dark mode helps not because it reduces the screen brightness, but this has to do with contrast. Our eyes respond more to contrast rather than brightness.
Contrast is the difference between dark and light. Pure while and pure black have more contrast than dark grey and light gray.
Less contrast can help with eye strain but too little contrast can be difficult to see. This is where it is important to find a balance between the two.
Bias lighting involves having lights behind a screen or monitor. Having lights behind the monitor can also help reduce contrast around the monitor. This improves comfort.
Personally, I am a fan of this as it also helps with the aesthetic feel of your place of creation.
If you do wear glasses, make sure they at least have an anti-reflection coating. This is a special coating that reduces reflection of the surface of your glasses.
Reflections can reduce the quality of an image you see since there is a slight glaring effect. Also, light behind your or above can bounce of the side of lens closest to your eyes resulting in discomfort.
Camera lenses have anti-reflection coatings to improve image quality. So should your glasses.
Additionally, cleaning your glasses is important as well. This removes any dust of smudges on the lenses.
The way you clean your glasses is important. Make sure you use lens spray with no harsh chemicals along with a clean microfiber cloth. This will help reduce damage to the coating as well as reducing the chance of scratching your lens. If you use your t-shirt or tissues, this can end up scratching your lenses.
I go into more detail about blue light in this post. Here are some relevant points.
Due to most monitors using an LED as a backlight, we are exposed to more blue light.
Blue light has been linked to more discomfort, but I’m not too sure how robust the evidence is on this.
However, exposure of blue light from the sun in a shorter period of time is far more than sitting in front of a computer screen. Short-term exposure to blue light may not be an issue but we are unsure what the long term effects are.
Get blue light filter glasses if you want. There is no harm, but once again, I’m not too sure how robust the evidence is around their benefit.
Blue light can have an effect on your sleep. Blue light signals to your brain to stay awake.
This is part of our evolution. During the day, where the blue light from the sun is at its maximum. It is favorable to be awake in order to hunt for food, forage, etc.
When the sun does down, so too does blue light. The reduction of blue light allows more production of a brain signal called melatonin. Melatonin tells our brain that it is time for sleep.
When using your smartphone or computer at night, you are exposed to more blue light at night time than usual. Blue light inhibits the production of melatonin. Therefore, blue light can affect our quality of sleep. Poor sleep has a myriad of long term health detriments.
Using blue light filtered glasses and application that reduce blue light may help with this, but once again there no strong evidence. You are probably better off abstaining an hour before bed.
The eyes are important for programming and taking care of them is key to enjoying your work.
If you haven’t already, the most important thing is making sure you are having your eyes routinely examined. Even if you think they are normal, some eye issues do not have any symptoms.
Position of you monitor is important as well, ensuring it is an arms length away and the top of the screen is at eye level.
Regular breaks are required to ensure you do not fatigue too quickly allowing you to work for longer.
Dark mode reduces the contrast on the screen, relaxing the eyes. Bias lighting helps with this as well.
Anti-reflection coating on your glasses helps improve visual quality so your eyes are not straining.
Understand that blue light may affect your sleep quality.
I’d be interested to hear if there are any techniques that have helped your eye when you are coding. Please comment below. Also, I hope you found this information useful and if you did please share this with your friend and family.
As a disclaimer, I am an optometrist but not your optometrist. For any problems with your eyes, please see an eye care professional for any formal advice in regards to your eyes.