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Managing Screen Time When You’re Learning Remotely

In many ways, our digital world has saved us in the midst of COVID-19. Without widespread internet access, there would have been no way to continue working or schooling during a global pandemic. Yes, remote learning isn’t ideal, but it’s better than not learning at all.

That being said, the increase in screen time doesn’t come without its downsides. Spending your entire day staring at a computer screen can lead to eye strain, neck problems, and headaches. You may not be able to go completely screen-free in your life, but there are ways you can manage your screen time and keep yourself feeling healthy. These tips are specifically aimed at students heading into another semester of online learning, but they’re also helpful for work-from-home parents!

1. Set up your computer in the most eye- and neck-friendly way possible

We’ve talked about the importance of a table or desk before, but it bears saying again: you shouldn’t be doing your schoolwork on the sofa or in bed. Your workspace should have a chair that fits you, which means you can sit in it with your feet flat on the ground. That will cut down on any tension in your shoulders and back, which can cause headaches. For your eyes, make sure your computer screen is several inches below your line of sight. You should also be sitting around 2 feet away from your screen. It’s better to sit farther away and increase the font size of your browser than it is to huddle close to the screen.

2. Print out study guides, lecture notes, and other materials, if you can

You might have to be logged in during class time, but that doesn’t mean your study time has to also be on a screen. If you’re able to print out materials on a home printer, you can use those paper copies for studying after class. Studies have also pointed to the benefits of taking paper notes on comprehension and retention, so keep a notepad with you during any lectures and take handwritten notes.

There are great online flashcard tools, but if you haven’t made index card flashcards in a while, grab your colored highlighters and make some old-school review materials. The activity of making physical flashcards will stretch your brain in a different way – and give your eyes a break from the blue light of a computer screen. 

3. Try the 20-20-20 rule to avoid eye strain

Eye strain is one of the most common side effects of increased screen usage. HealthLine explains why computer screens give us eye strain headaches: “When you look at objects or screens at a close range, the muscles in and around your eyes need to work harder to focus. Over time, these muscles can get sore and tired, just like any other muscle in your body.” Makes sense, right? 

Luckily, you can avoid or reduce eye strain by following the 20-20-20 rule, which says that every 20 minutes that you’ve been on the computer, you should look away for at least 20 seconds and focus on something that is about 20 feet away. If you’re able to, you can even go outside for a few minutes and look out into the world. If not, out the window or across the room will work. The 20 seconds will let the muscles in your eyes relax and reboot.

4. Stay hydrated

You might be wondering what your water intake has to do with screen time. Easy: dehydration can cause eye dryness and headache, both symptoms that are increased by too much screen time. Also, remote learning throws off normal routines, which makes it easy to forget your water intake. To keep yourself hydrated, make sure you’re drinking water, rather than lots of coffee, soda, or energy drinks, which actually dehydrate you more! Side note: refilling a water bottle is a great way to take your 20-20-20 eye break. 

5. Try to limit your screen time right before bed

This one is tricky! If you’re still quarantined and you haven’t gotten to see your friends in months, texting and video-chatting might be the social outlet you need after school. However, the blue light that computer, tablet, and phone screens emit can disrupt your natural sleep rhythms. Sleep is vital to your wellbeing, and a lack of sleep can lead to a whole host of health issues.

It’s a good idea to shut down all screens before you go to bed and give yourself time to unwind from the day. Instead of turning to a screen before bed, try journaling, reading a chapter of a book, or doing low-impact stretches to settle into sleep mode.

6. Stay active and be aware of your body!

Stretching, walking (even if it’s just around the house), and other physical activities can help you ward off headaches, stiffness, and eye strain from sitting in front of a computer too long. So go ahead – throw that impromptu dance party! Your endorphins will thank you.

Closing thoughts

It’s easy to feel defeated at the prospect of another online or hybrid semester, but there are things you can do to keep yourself healthier, happier, and more productive in the midst of a less-than-ideal situation. These strategies aren’t just for the present, though. We live in a digital world, so if you’re able to form these habits now, you’ll be in a much better position for long-term success once COVID ends.

Applerouth is a trusted test prep and tutoring resource. We combine the science of learning with a thoughtful, student-focused approach to help our clients succeed. Call or email us today at 202-558-5644 or