The main reason is dry eyes, but there is more you can do to help
If your eyes feel like they're burning by 8 pm, you've got screen fatigue. Last week, mine did the same. So I did something about it.
Before the pandemic I was already working mostly at home, going into the city perhaps two days a week. Now I'm spending longer in front of the screen, and my eyes are sore at night.
I researched tips to relieve tired eyes, and I've put the best three into practice myself.
Our eyes are working harder, all day
These are what I now do, and you can too. It's uncomfortable when your eyes are sore at the end of the day, and these tips will reduce that discomfort at the time that you are ready to relax.
Screen time has gone through the roof with the pandemic and lock-down. All of our face-to-face meetings have been replaced by staring at a screen. For our eyes, this is terrible news. Our eyes are no longer "exercising" as we looked about the office and out the window - constantly adjusting their focal distance.
When we are reading something at an arm-length's range and concentrating, our eyes are working harder than looking at something in the distance. For our eyes to work correctly for close focus, they must rotate slightly down and in - this takes effort. Applying this effort all day tires our eyes.
Headaches and a tight neck often accompany this tiredness.
We blink far less when concentrating on our screen
It's not only muscular tiredness that causes that soreness at 8 pm, it is also also a result of dry eyes. In fact, dry eyes are the major reason, and it has a name - Computer Vision Syndrome.
While there are numerous causes of CVS, doctors at The University of Texas - Houston Medical School Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science (UTH-TMC) believe that dry eyes contribute enormously to CVS.
The reason for this is that our eyes "forget" to blink when staring at a screen. Blinking helps lubricate eyes, and our rate of blinking reduces by about 60% when in front of a screen.
Instead of blinking, say, 15 times when we are looking about generally, we only blink 5-6 times when in front of our screen. Blinking matters because a tear film coats the cornea and an oily layer seals the tear film and prevents evaporation.
Glands located under our upper eyelids (meibomian glands) secrete an oily layer. Blink once, and the meibomian gland discharges its quota of oily fluid to lubricate our eyes. If we blink less than normal, then the tear film evaporates from the cornea surface and our eyes become dry.
This dryness is the main reason that our eyes feel so tired and sore by the end of a day of Zoom meetings and concentrating on the screen. This dryness, plus the muscular tension, is what we need to alleviate.
Extensive screen time isn't found to be damaging
By the way, it seems that we need not be concerned about all this extra screen time damaging our eyes. Increased screen time has always been a controversial issue, and as parents, we worry about our children's eye health. So far, screen time hasn't been proven to damage any aspect of the eye. Harvard Health calls it one of the "five common eye myths".
Here's what I found works for relieving everyday eye strain. These are not going to make your eyes healthier, that's a much more complicated topic. Harvard Health nominates doing eye exercises to improve eye health as another of the "five common eye myths". These activities are specifically about reducing daily eye soreness.
Break, blink, behold - and more
Here's what worked for me in eliminated my sore eyes after a long day at the screen:
#1 - Setting your best monitor height tailored for your posture
If your monitor is set at the wrong height for eye comfort, then this will contribute to your daily eye tiredness. You may find varying advice about the "right height" to be confusing. I did.
Some advice is that your eyes should be level with the top of the monitor. I found that this often creates a tendency to slump forward a little - it is harder to maintain an upright posture. Slumping, in turn, aggravates neck strain which may then reflect in headaches.
On the other hand, if your monitor is set too high, then this leads to neck tension as a result of holding your head slightly backwards to view the upper part of the screen. I made this mistake. I thought that raising the screen higher would force me not to let my head slump forward. But my neck gradually developed more tightness.
Here is the best way to set a screen height that will minimise neck tension and reduce - to a degree - the level of concentration that you need to apply to your focus:
As soon as you feel your chin tilt upwards, you have evidence provided by your own specific body and posture that your screen top is too high.
When I did this, I was truly surprised. My body told me that my monitor was positioned about 10cm too high!
This method is far superior to the "top of monitor aligned with eyes" and other generalised and static approaches to setting the correct monitor height. Using this test gives you a specific height tailored to your posture and your normal working layout.
Try it, and see what you learn. After doing this I bought a monitor arm so that I could set my screen at the optimal working height.
#2 - Lubricate and relax your eyes with a break, blink, behold
We're all well aware by now of the benefits of getting up from our chair regularly and giving our body a physical refresh - relieving our joints and getting our blood flowing again.
Our eyes need the same regular relief in order to lubricate the dryness from too much screen time. Remember this as your Break - Blink - Behold routine:
Doing this will relubricate your eyes and prevent them drying out when you get back to work. Blinking is the main activity that you need to add into your routine to prevent that 8 pm eye soreness.
#3 - Relieve your shoulders and neck and increase neck mobility
You can do this exercise while sitting at your desk. Better though, to include it as a part of your regular stand-up breaks because that way you will remember to keep doing it.
Repeat the exercise 5 to 10 times. This will increase your neck mobility and lessen the chance of headaches by the end of the day. Eye strain is associated with both neck tension and headaches, and this exercise complements the other two practices.
Setting your monitor at the right height will minimise the likelihood that you will strain your neck by moving your head back, and also help reduce some of the eye concentration needed to focus on your screen.
Break - Blink - Behold lubricates your eyes, and gives your eye muscles some rest and recovery from their near-screen contraction.
Relieving your shoulders and neck will alleviate the tension which gradually builds up during the day as a result of muscular fatigue.
I hope these help you as they helped me avoid sore eyes in the evening.
No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or another qualified clinician. Disclaimer.
Since I was diagnosed at 50 with Type 2 diabetes I've been learning how to do bone-building fitness training which lowers my age. You can too. It's your choice. Walter