How Close Should I Sit to My Computer Screen?

The question of how close you should sit to your computer screen involves a few different elements. However, I know most of you just want a quick answer, so here it is: sit 20-40 inches from your screen. Now, you can go on and complete your day with that helpful tidbit. But, for those of you who would like a little more information regarding this (maybe you’re the kind who likes to know why you’re doing something before you do it?), you’re in luck!

Sitting Correctly at Your Computer

I know-we all get lazy at our desks. You slouch down. You slump forward. You wear your hoodie backwards and eat popcorn from the hood. Well, maybe that last one isn’t such a bad idea. Anyway, you get it. The first step to breaking bad habits is knowing the right thing to do.

  • Before You Sit Down
  • - First thing's first. Don’t sit down yet. Don’t raise the height of your chair. Don’t do your ritual knuckle-cracking before slamming back the first of ten coffees. Instead, look around and notice the lighting at your desk. If you have harsh overhead lights, now is the time to make sure they don’t interfere with your vision.

    Lights should be no brighter than your computer screen. Any brighter than that, and they will cause glare-blinding (not literally), annoying glare. This makes your eyes work harder, and is one culprit behind digital eye strain. This applies to windows, as well. If a window is directly behind you, pull the drapes.

  • Now You Can Sit Down
  • - Wait! You do have the right chair, don’t you? Sitting isn't as easy as it sounds. Not if you want to do it right, anyway. There are three things you want to make sure your chair does for you: 1) supports your spine so you are sitting upright; 2) allows your feet to rest flat on the ground; and 3) raises your forearms so that they are at a ninety degree angle when typing and using your mouse.

    Cheats: To make these adjustments without a fancy chair, you can put a pillow behind your back or under your bum, put a stool under your feet, or use an adjustable keyboard tray.

  • The Nitty-Gritty
  • - Now that you've got those big adjustments taken care of, it’s time to make sure your monitor is positioned properly. As I mentioned, your monitor should be about 20-40 inches away from your face. If you can’t measure it (who has time for that!?), you this simple hack: the proper distance is about the length of your arm. Just hold your arm out in front of you while sitting straight in your chair; your fingertips should barely reach the screen.
    In addition to distance, your screen should be flat in front of you, not tilted. And, the top of the monitor should be level with your eyes. This ensures that you are looking down at a comfortable angle to read text. If you have to, put some books beneath the monitor to raise it to the right height.

    For a fun example of how to implement this advice, view this illustrative video.

    An Explanation of Digital Eye Strain

    Digital eye strain can occur after as little as two hours of screen use. It doesn't matter what kind of electronic screen you are using; it could be a laptop, smartphone, television, tablet, or video game system. You’ll know you have experienced this kind of eye strain when you begin to experience:

    • Dry, tired eyes;
    • Headaches;
    • Blurry vision; or
    • Pain in your shoulders, neck, or back

    All of these symptoms are usually temporary and can be reduced by positioning yourself correctly when viewing a screen. However, even the best viewing habits will not eliminate the effects of staring at screens non-stop for the majority of the day. Be sure to keep your eyes moist by blinking frequently and take regular breaks to get up and stretch your body and your eyes. A break does not mean switching from one device to another!

    You may be wondering why screens cause our eyes so much grief. After all, isn’t it the same as looking at any other object? Unfortunately, it’s not. Looking at tiny, pixelated print is a daunting task for our eyes. Unlike the filled lines of printed text, computer text is made of pixels. Even if you don’t see the pixilation, your eyes are straining to focus all those little dots.
    Also, most devices expose your eyes to harsh light emissions throughout the day. You know how your mom told you not to stare at the sun because it will hurt your eyes? Well, a computer or smartphone screen may not be as bright as sunlight, but long exposure can wear on those eyeballs. In particular, devices emit a lot of blue light, which can also disrupt your sleep patterns. Since eye doctors aren't entirely sure of the long-term consequences of all that blue light exposure, play it safe and give those peepers a break.

    What About Mobile Devices?

    So, you've got your work station set up in the best layout for your eyes and back. Great! But, what about your smartphone, e-reader, or tablet? Chances are you use these devices at least an hour every day also. The steps to proper use are much like those for your desktop computer.

    1. Go into the settings and adjust your font size and browser view to be large enough to read without straining.
    2. Hold the device out about midway in front of you. It should neither be right up to your face nor stretched all the way to arm's length.
    3. Like your computer screen, the device should be positioned to allow you to glance at a slightly downward angle.
    4. Remember, just because certain settings are the factory default doesn’t mean they’re best for your eyes. Check brightness, contrast, and resolution and tweak them until you feel comfortable viewing.

    That pretty much covers it. It’s not too difficult to take a little time out for eye health. Most of these suggestions can be implemented in just a few minutes, so there’s no excuse not to try them out!

    What have you found to be the best distance between you and your monitor? What other methods for comfortable viewing have you used? Share your comments below.