It’s no secret that an excess of screen time can become harmful to your (or your children’s) health. Whether you’re scrolling through social media, using a computer for work, or reading the news, looking at screens for an extensive amount of time has been linked to sleep problems and eye strain. Fortunately, there are ways that you and your family can take screen breaks throughout your day in order to reduce the negative effects of prolonged screen time.
The Importance of Taking Screen Breaks
When using devices with screens, your eyes stay in a fixed position for a period of time, which can lead to eye strain, fatigue, and headaches. Taking regular screen breaks will help minimize these issues and give your eyes a chance to rest by focusing on something else. Also, taking screen breaks gives you the chance to get up, move around, stretch, cross something off of your to-do list, and readjust your posture. Screen breaks can additionally help you mentally refocus before returning to the task you were working on. For children and teens especially, substantial screen breaks provide an opportunity to spend their time doing something away from their devices.
How to Take a Proper Screen Break While Working
One of the most important things to keep in mind when taking a screen break is to take a break from all screens. Taking a break from the computer just to spend time on a smartphone or tablet is not a true screen break.
If you’re using a computer or tablet for an extended period of time, such as answering emails or being on a Zoom meeting, we recommend the 20-20-20 rule as the bare minimum for your breaks. This method does not require you to move away from your device, which can be helpful if you’re in the middle of an important project or meeting. The 20-20-20 rule states that every 20 minutes, you need to look at something approximately 20 feet away for 20 full seconds. This could be something across the room or out a window! Looking at something further away than your screen can lessen eye strain and allow you to refocus. You can also use this time to check and correct your posture.
To have a more beneficial screen break while working, try getting up from your seat for at least 5-10 minutes every hour. Stretch your arms and legs, grab a snack or beverage, or even go outside for a few minutes to get a change of environment. If you are feeling stressed or anxious, some deep breathing exercises or meditation may be helpful.
If you have children doing online school or working on a computer for homework, encourage them to take screen breaks like these when they can!
Managing Casual Screen Time
Even if you and your family aren’t using electronic devices for work or school purposes, screen breaks apply to casual screen use as well. Whether you’re watching a TV show, scrolling through social media, playing games, or chatting with friends, make a habit of applying the 20-20-20 rule and hourly breaks to your “fun” screen time.
You can also set screen time limits on many cell phones and tablets, which can help to limit the time you or your family spend on each device. A screen time limit, whether it’s set on a device or just a general household rule, can encourage you and your family to be more mindful of how much time everyone spends on their devices and also make space for other activities.
If you are trying to manage your kids’ leisurely screen time, it can be helpful to start by setting a good example with your own. Make a habit of choosing other activities over screen time, such as playing a physical game, going outside, completing a chore, or reading a book.
Taking screen breaks is an important practice that can provide many physical and mental benefits, whether it’s during work hours or casual screen use at home. Making screen breaks an intentional habit can help reduce screen-related headaches, eye strain, and fatigue, as well as provide an opportunity to refocus on a task or take part in another activity. If you find you are still experiencing these symptoms after implementing substantial screen breaks, we recommend contacting your primary care provider to see if there is another cause.