Bad for Eyes to Use Computer in Dark?

Let's just get right to the heart of the matter. Is it bad for your eyes to use a computer in the dark? Well, no and yes. Will your eyes suffer permanent damage from lights-out computer use? No. Your vision will not go spiraling down a tunnel towards further and further impairment. You won't develop some rare and serious condition. However, you may experience a very common ocular ailment called eye strain.

What Is Eye Strain?

Eye strain is basically fatigue of the muscles in your eyes. Just like any other muscle in your body becomes tired after a strenuous workout, your eye muscles can be strained and exhausted from overuse. That is what is happening when you experience symptoms like:

  • Dry, irritated eyes
  • Headaches
  • Feeling of pressure behind your eyes
  • And blurry vision

It turns out eye strain is fairly common. Most people experience it at some point, and some people suffer from it regularly. The primary cause of this strain is staring at the screens on electronic devices, including computers and mobile devices. The good news is the effects of eye strain are temporary.

Several factors contribute to the condition. For one, people tend to blink less often when reading on a computer than they do when reading a printed text. Less blinking means your eyes get dry faster. When your eyes are dry, they have to work harder in order to focus properly. Aside from blinking less, your eyes already work harder to focus on digital text. Unlike printed text, the words on a computer screen are made up of lots of tiny pixels. Although you can't necessarily see the individual pixels, they do make it harder for your eyes to focus on the words you're reading.

Other factors can also contribute to how much stress you put on your optical muscles—how small the text is, how close you are to the screen, even the screen's brightness. When your eyes work harder to focus, the muscles get worn out faster. This is how digital eye strain happens.

Using a Computer in the Dark

It turns out that using a computer in the dark can actually exacerbate eye strain. Not by a large measure, but enough that it may be worthwhile to reconsider how you use your computer in the evening. What happens is that when the lighting in the room around your computer is drastically different from the level of light being emitted from your screen, your eyes put more effort into focusing. It is the contrast in lighting that puts the extra strain on your vision. Working in a lit room evens out the light sources your eyes are focusing in, easing the strain. In fact, working in an overly bright room can also cause strain from contrast in lighting.

Luckily, there are some easy things you can do to slow down or reduce the strain on your eyes:

  • Adjust the Brightness Setting - Your computer monitor has a brightness setting. This can be adjusted so that the level of light being emitted from your screen matches the level of illumination in the room. When you're working in a dark or dimly lit room, reduce the brightness on your monitor.

    Looking into an overly bright screen while working in the dark is like staring into a flashlight. Your eyes perceive the darkness around you, but you are looking directly into a light source. If you see spots or lines in your vision when you look away from the screen, that's an indication that you might want to lower the brightness setting.

  • Increase the Contrast - The contrast setting on your monitor makes contrasting colors either more or less distinct. Most digital texts and websites use a dark font on a lighter background. By increasing the contrast, the words will stand out sharper, making it easier for your eyes to focus on them.
  • Get Rid of Glare - You may be working in a dim room with the blinds or curtains partially opened. If sunlight is shining in from behind you, it can create glare on your screen. Glare is another one of those pesky little things that increases eye strain by making your eyes work harder to see clearly. To get rid of it, either turn your work area to face the window, or close the curtains completely.
  • Use Some Lighting - Even if you need to work in the dark by necessity (the rest of the house is asleep, for example), try to find some low lighting to use. A little illumination will even out the light your eyes are exposed to. It's still better than staring at a lit screen in a completely black room. Just be sure to place the lighting so that it doesn't create glare.
  • Increase the Font Size - Whether you are working in the dark or not, trying to read tiny text is hard on your eyes. The smaller the text, the more closely you need to focus your vision. To save yourself from the strain and headache, increase the font to a size that is comfortable to view from 12-14 inches away from your face.
  • Install f.lux - Check out a short video about this free program. It reduces the blue light from your computer at night, which not only decreases eye strain, but may help you fall asleep easier after staying up on your computer.

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These steps are pretty easy to follow, but even if you don't the resulting discomfort will be temporary. For most people, digital eye strain does not cause any permanent harm to vision. Rest assured that when you do stay up a little too late working you can take some steps to ease the strain:

  • Blink - Blinking regularly while using your computer in the dark can help keep your eyes moist so they don't feel dry and irritated.
  • Give Em a Break - Take time out every 20 minutes to look away from your screen. Look around the room at objects of varying distances. Relax your eye muscles by rolling them in circles, first clockwise, and then counter-clockwise. It works similar to when you roll your neck to stretch and relax those muscles.
  • Try Eye Drops - If you experience eye strain often, get some artificial tears to keep your eyes from feeling painfully dry. The secret is to use the drops before you get to the point of discomfort.
  • Computer glasses - Talk to your optometrist about eye strain and they can prescribe you a pair of computer glasses that relax your eyes while you work.

Keeping your eyes working their best is not difficult. Eye strain can make your vision blurry and cause headaches. But, using your computer smartly can reduce your chances of experiencing uncomfortable symptoms.