Smartphones, tablets and computers are a fact of life in the 21st century, and in the first quarter of 2018 US adults spent three hours and 48 minutes a day on computers, tablets and smartphones, according to a study by market-research group Nielsen. This is a 13-minute increase from the previous quarter, and 62% of that time is spent browsing the internet and using apps on smartphones.
9 Ways Digital Screens Cause Migraines
Whether you’re at work doing your job, viewing status updates on Facebook, playing video games, banking, shopping or watching movies in bed, the time spent looking at electronic screens can play havoc with your migraines.
Here’s how phone and computer screens trigger migraine attacks.
#1. Light-Induced Migraines
Staring at a computer monitor for hours is almost a sure-fire way to bring on an unpleasant headache episode for migraine patients. Light-induced headache episodes are some of the most commonly reported by migraine patients, and even people who don’t suffer from migraines are bound to get headaches when they stare at computer monitors for a long time. Reasons for this include the intensity of the light, the contrast between light and dark, and the blue-green color of electronic light, all of which are potential triggers. In addition, users with neurological conditions have a lower tolerance for bright lights.
Asthenopia, commonly known as eyestrain, is a condition that mostly affects people who correct their vision with eyeglasses or contact lenses. Eyestrain occurs when we get tired of looking at a screen for too long, and it can happen with computer monitors as well as with televisions, smartphones, portable video game systems, etc. Eyestrain is a migraine trigger like sinus infections in the sense that it affects a facial nerve that is known to provoke headaches.
#3. Computer Vision Syndrome and Stress
Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) is a condition identified late last century, when long days in front of a computer began to be the norm for many workers. Symptoms include weary, blurred and dry eyes, painful shoulders, stiff neck and headaches. CVS also causes development of mental stress, which is one of the primary migraine triggers.
#4. Duration of Exposure
This can be a problem with both short- and longer-term exposure. Viewing a screen intensively for 30 minutes or less can bring on CVS, while continuous usage for 2 hours a day or more can lead to regular headache pain. Extended daily exposure of 4 to 9 hours can increase your risk for migraine episodes.
#5. Flicker Frequency
The “invisible” flickering of digital screens and the continuous motion of whatever you’re viewing can be difficult to digest, and may result in headache pain accompanied by nausea, eyestrain and fatigue. This is consistent with other research that shows screens backlit with fluorescent LED lights cause similar problems.
#6. Interference with Sleep
Using tablets, smartphones, laptops, or any other electronic devices before bed can delay your body’s internal clock (a.k.a., your circadian rhythm), according to the National Sleep Foundation. This suppresses the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, which makes it more difficult to fall asleep. Insufficient or disturbed sleep patterns are a primary migraine trigger for most sufferers.
#7. Poor Posture
Doctors are noticing a marked increase in patients with “text neck”, which is pain in the neck and upper back most likely related to poor posture during extended smartphone use, according to a recent report in the Spine Journal. Neck and spine conditions are well-known to increase a patient’s risk of developing migraines.
#8. Sudden Noises
Most electronic devices are notorious for giving off various beeps and tones unexpectedly. Sensitivity to sound is a common occurrence in migraine patients, and using a device that delivers sudden noises continuously can be problematic for migraineurs.
#9. Viewing Distance
There is some evidence to indicate the distance from which you view your computer screen causes headaches, but whether this is related to eyestrain or poor posture caused by the distance is debatable.
The good news is there are ways to enjoy your devices and still avoid migraines. Control many of the ways your devices behave by adopting good usage habits and adapting your settings to make them less likely to trigger a painful episode.
Enjoy Your Digital Experience Without Migraine
Change the display properties of your monitor or screen, starting with the refresh rate. This is measured in hertz and is controlled from the operating system or preferences. Higher refresh rates help to reduce eyestrain, so the higher you can set it the better.
Adjust the brightness, color and contrast of your display to levels you find comfortable to look at. Computers typically have a range of preset views, which are optimized for different types of content. You can choose from the preset views, dim the screen to reduce the contrast, or choose a warmer tint, which is more restful for your eyes. If your phone can’t do this, various third-party apps offer the option.
Warm up the color of your screen light, use an anti-glare screen cover or wear light-sensitive glasses. Many people use these to cut down on migraine triggers during computer use, but few realize they could also reduce the similar threats from their smaller screens.
Increase your text size, which should enable you to hold the phone further away, hunch over a bit less, and avoid both eyestrain and poor posture. Turn off autoplay functions and loud alerts, to minimize the noise, sudden lights and movement that can cause tension.
Disable parallax displays and automatic rotation, which can cause nausea and motion sickness. Learn to use voice search capabilities whenever possible, to minimize the amount of time you spend gazing at the screen.
Stage your workspace correctly. If you work in an office environment where computers are critical equipment, doing this can make a significant difference to your levels of comfort. Make sure your monitor is at eye level and directly in front of you, not off to one side. This helps to reduce neck strain and support a direct line of vision. Position it 20 to 40 inches away to prevent eyestrain, and make sure your chair is the right level to align your eyes with the screen. Clean the screen regularly to remove dust, which reduces sharpness and makes your eyes have to work harder than they should.
Take breaks from using a digital device and rest your eyes. This is particularly important if you work on a digital screen for several hours every day. Try to follow the 20-20-20 rule, which means looking away from the screen every 20 minutes and focusing on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Blink frequently to keep your eyes from drying out, and use lubricating eyedrops to prevent eyestrain.
Modify your bedtime routine to practice sleep hygiene, which includes avoiding the use of digital screens for an hour or two before you retire.
No one wants to be without their computer, smartphone or other devices and miss out on the good things offered by modern technology. Triggers happen without warning, and being aware of the potential dangers enables you to go on enjoying all the good things in modern technology, without increasing your chances of a migraine attack.