Is Your Desk Lighting Giving You a Headache?

Eye strain resulting from working at a computer is extremely common.  In fact, the American Optometric Association recently reported that 70 percent of people who work on computers for at least two hours a day are impacted by a condition called Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS).

Our tendency to stare at a computer screen or Smartphone throughout the entire day is taking a serious toll on our eyes.  CVS is also associated with fatigue, decreased productivity, and headaches.

For those in the working world who can’t avoid prolonged computer use, adequate lighting is key to avoiding the effects of CVS.  If you work in an office setting, think about talking to your employer about improving lighting conditions!  Here are some tips for proper desk lighting:

  • Bright lighting overhead should be kept to a minimum, if possible.  Using a combination of indirect lights and task lights is optimal for an office setting.
  • If you have a desk lamp, make sure it is 15 inches above the desk’s surface.  Whether your light is wall-mounted or sitting on the desk, the 15 inch rule stands.

  • Try to avoid glare from overhead lights and windows by strategically positioning your computer screen.  It’s best for windows to be to the side of your monitor (rather than to the front or back).
  • For those with wall-mounted shelves directly above the desk, the best way to provide proper illumination is to install a task light on the underside of the shelf.  At 15 inches above the desk, this type of light will evenly light up the surface and will eliminate eye strain from harsh overhead lighting.  If you’re serious about improving your desk lighting but lacking the shelves, check out this article on How to Install Wall-Mounted Shelves.  It’s a very easy project!
  • Consider choosing xenon task lights for your desk lighting, if you’re using the underside of a wall shelf.  They’re dimmable, so you can choose the exact light level you need at any given time.

Making sure you have adequate task lighting is most important for easing eye strain, but here are a few other tips:

Blink. Sounds silly, doesn’t it?  But, people looking at computer screens or hand-held devices typically blink 2-3 times less than normal.  Make a conscious effort to blink and avoid dry eye.

Look down.  Set up your computer screen to be about 4 inches below eye level and 20-28 inches away from your eyes.

Take five. Instead of taking just a couple of 15 minute breaks per day (typical of most workers), incorporate five-minute mini-breaks throughout your day.  A recent study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that workers who incorporated 20 extra minutes of break time each day were not any less productive.  Apparently, the mini-breaks helped workers become more efficient during the time they were working.

Use the “20-20-20” rule.  Prolonged computer work can cause your eye’s focusing ability to “lock up.”  To avoid this, follow what optometrists call the “20-20-20” rule: For every 20 minutes you are staring at your computer, look away at a distant object (at least 20 feet away) for at least 20 seconds.

Emily Widle

Emily graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism. She enjoys scouring the news to report on the latest in the lighting industry as well as bringing valuable remodeling tips and exemplar home projects to light.