Nowadays, studying and notetaking mean booting up as often as cracking the books. But misusing your screen can cost when it comes to your eyesight. The peepers are simply not designed to handle sustained periods of relatively static close-up work. To keep them functioning well despite the demands of your course load, be proactive.
When staring down computer monitors, do what you have to do to remember to breathe, and blink every three to five seconds. Blinking - one of those natural reflexes that tends to disappear when we're stressed and over-concentrating - is crucial for eye lubrication and relaxation.
Set up your workstation so it suits your body, instead of trying to make yourself adjust to desks and chairs that don't fit you. Our experts' tips below give you the basics of good computer station ergonomics.
Locate your work space so you can easily look into the distance every two to three minutes for a couple of seconds. Take a slightly longer vision break every 15 minutes or so, and get out of your chair for stretching, movement and eye relaxation once every hour.
Screen glare is very hard on your eyes, so use an anti-glare filter and set up the room lighting to eliminate any other problem sources. Flickering fluorescents compound the stress on your nervous system from a computer's flicker. Full-spectrum incandescent lighting will reduce your eye stress significantly, I've discovered.
Being around computers and other electric devices is dehydrating, so make sure you're drinking plenty of water, too, as you work. Note that anything with caffeine in it drains water from your body. Finally, keep in mind that blueberries and lots of veggies, especially the green ones, will help your eyes stay their healthiest.
What the experts say
"When your eyes are relaxed, they're lined up to see far away. It requires effort to do things up close. The question is, how do you minimize that effort? One of the principal things is having your computer screen at least an arm's length away. If you can reach out and touch your screen it's probably too close. Your head should be tilted down at 20 degrees to look at your screen. Try to look away every 10 to 15 minutes, even for a few seconds, to give your eyes a break."
JOE CHAN , optometrist, Mississauga
"Posture is really important. Slumping cuts off energy going to the brain and eyes. The torso and thigh and the thigh and lower leg should be at 90 degree angles to each other. Position the screen about 2 feet away, centred in your visual field, just below your natural line of sight. Avoid putting the screen to the side; the whole spine gets skewed. Close your eyes whenever you're waiting for something to happen. If you wear glasses, use a weaker prescription. At the optometrist they give you a prescription for focusing at 20 feet. At the computer, you don't need that much correction.'
ELIZABETH ABRAHAM , founder, Vision Education Centre, Toronto
"Laptops aren't the most ergonomically correct tools. If you put one on your lap, it's good for your arms and shoulders, it doesn't strain them, but it's bad for your eyes and neck. If you put the laptop on a table surface, that's good for your eyes and neck, but you have to hunch your shoulders up to reach the keyboard. Connecting another monitor or keyboard to a laptop is the best option. Use laptops as little as possible in classrooms and libraries.' TANIA LILLAK , certified kinesiologist, ergonomics specialist, Toronto "Set up the computer so you can look at the room behind it or down the hall or out the window. In a cubbyhole, put a mirror on top of the computer and look into it to get that greater focusing distance. Every two or three minutes, shift your gaze into the distance once or twice. Eliminate glare. Everything you can see reflected into the screen before you turn it on is a source of glare. Breathe regularly and blink every three to five seconds. Stay aware of your total field of vision."
MARTIN SUSSMAN , president, Cambridge Institute for Better Vision, co-author, Total Health At The Computer, Topsfield, MA
"Compounds that support eye health are found in blueberries, spinach , kale , broccoli , okra and other greens. Underneath the lashes are oil glands that help lubricate the eyes. To ensure these work properly, we need to support good circulation in the head. Blueberries and grape seed extract strengthen capillary walls, and ginkgo biloba is particularly good for micro-circulation. Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA from fish oil) and vitamins A and D are good for nerve function and are all found in deep-water fish . Eat (wild or organically farmed) fish two to three times a week, unless you're pregnant and need to avoid mercury contamination."
VIVIAN LEE , registered holistic nutritionist, manager, Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, Toronto