TL;DR: While regular blinking breaks help digital eye strain symptoms, the science and the way we use devices now supports longer, more intentional breaks for both our eyes and our minds.
This week, we’re looking at a classic eye fatigue mitigation technique – the 20-20-20 rule – and turning it on its head.
Even well before the pandemic, we were living in a digital world. The transition to working from home required many to use screens even more, but with the same wind-down routines in place that rely on Netflix or scrolling on our phones. Simply put, we’re using our screens more than ever.
All of this culminates in digital eye strain, with tired, dry, scratchy eyes being one of the most common reasons for visits to the eye doctor.
For decades, we’ve preached and practiced the “20-20-20” rule for mitigating or avoiding digital eye strain and fatigue.
But in our new era of unprecedented screen use and reliance, is that really still the best practice? What tools do you currently have at your disposal to help rest your eyes and mind?
The “Golden” Rule?
The idea behind the 20-20-20 rule is simple: Every 20 minutes, look away from your screen, focusing on something ~20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds.
Placing your focus further away allows your eye muscles to relax, particularly after being forced to focus so near while using screens.
But are people doing that? And is a 20 second break enough?
It may surprise you to hear not only that better options exist, but that we’ve known about them for decades.
Taking longer, intentional breaks improves wellbeing and productivity
For instance, a study done over 20 years ago had computer workers take three 30 second breaks, and one 3 minute break each hour, with some instructed to perform stretching exercises (which required standing/ getting out of their chair) during that time.
Eye comfort, as well as productivity, leg, and foot comfort all improved, only when the breaks included stretching exercises.
The break from looking at screens is part of the battle, and the addition of stretching is certainly a step up. But the intention of stepping away – of taking a break for both mind and body and not just the eyes – is the real key.
More and more research supports this idea. A recent meta-analysis comprising 2335 people showed that “the longer the break, the greater the boost” for performance and wellbeing.
Short breaks did improve well-being, but larger well-being improvements with added boosts to performance were only seen with longer (~10 minute) breaks. These longer breaks also helped with recovery from more demanding or cognitively straining tasks.
Breaks also don’t need to be as frequent as every 20 minutes. In fact, adding just four additional 5 minute breaks each day reliably minimized discomfort and eyestrain without impairing productivity.
To clarify, not only did workers have less digital eye strain and feel more comfortable, but they were actually more productive despite taking an additional 20 minutes of breaks each day. They were able to work faster and get more done, while also feeling physically and mentally better.
We’ve previously explored the tremendous benefit of regular breaks, such as incorporating a yoga nidra practice into your daily routine. It’s not a stretch to surmise that the improved eye and body comfort, in addition to the boosted productivity at work, would translate to better sleep quality and improvements in other wellness aspects as well.
A Tool to Disconnect
REST was designed with these insights in mind.
Using screens is unavoidable today (although almost all of us could stand to reduce our usage a bit). But taking preventative steps is within all of our abilities.
REST users can engage in sessions as short as 90 seconds to as long as 12 minutes, while the device delivers soothing heat, cold, and a vibrational massage to relax their breathing.
We know that not every routine looks the same, which is why we’ve made the sessions fully customizable in length, temperature, and other mindful settings.
Instead of that 20 second break from the 20-20-20 rule alone, try 2 minutes. If you can, try 5, or 10 minutes.
Instead of focusing on a break every 20 minutes, try a few minutes periodically throughout the day, as needed.
Make REST, and intentional wellness breaks, a part of a routine to mitigate digital eye strain: Maybe a few minutes at the end of a lunch break, or instead of that much sought-after 2pm coffee.
The boosts for eye fatigue might be expected, but the boosts for productivity, full body strain, sleep, and mental wellbeing may just surprise you.