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Studying on a screen

Using a computer and your wellbeing

Spending too much time staring at a screen can cause eye strain and fatigue which can lead to blurred vision, headaches or even migraines. Sitting at a desk for long periods of time can also have negative effects on the body if proper precautions aren't taken. This article offers some tips and suggested resources to help you make the right decisions for your wellbeing and comfort when studying.

Reducing eye strain and fatigue

Adjust your settings

One of the first things you could try is adjusting settings on your computer or device. Try adjusting the brightness level of your screen to where it feels most comfortable to you. If the size of the text you are reading is too small, try zooming in or adjusting the text settings on your computer or web browser. You may be able to adjust the screen or text contrast (difference in colour between the text and background) making use of settings such as ‘dark mode’ to ease the strain on your eyes. There are also several apps and browser plug-ins you could try such as ones that will adjust your screen brightness depending on the time of day.

Consider your workspace

How you set up your space can also be important. Here are some tips.

  • Your computer or laptop screen should be positioned the right distance from your eyes at around an arm's length.
  • You should ideally be looking slightly down at your screen, eyes level with the top of your screen.
  • Study in a well-lit room – you may want to use an additional desk light, but make sure lights are not causing screen glare or shining directly into your face.
  • Work away from windows or close the curtains or adjust the blinds if you find that sunlight creates glare.
  • Consider using a glare filter for your screen if glare is a persistent problem.
  • If you're often looking back and forth between print materials and your computer or laptop, you may want to consider using a document stand so that your print materials and computer screen are at the same eye level.

Give your eyes a break

Pay attention to how long you look at your screen. Doing the following might help avoid headaches and eyestrain.

  • Use the “20-20-20 rule.” Look away from your screen every 20 minutes and concentrate on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
  • Make a study schedule and take regular breaks to give your eyes a rest and to look after your mental and physical wellbeing.
  • Set timers that will remind you to take a break if you find that you often lose track of time. There are also apps and tools you can download to help with this.
  • Remember to blink! The best way to reduce dryness in your eye is to blink regularly.

Try different ways of studying

You may find that changing how you are studying makes a difference. Make use of the additional formats available for your module materials such as Ebook versions, or you could try listening to your module materials.

If eye strain, headaches or migraines continue to be a problem

If you are often experiencing problems with your eyes, headaches or migraines you may need to seek expert advice from your optician or GP. It could be that you require reading glasses or need to change your prescription lenses. Your optician or GP may also be able to recommend eye drops or special lenses that reduce screen glare.

If you have declared, or are able to provide evidence, of a disability or health condition that affects your ability to study on a screen you may be able to request adjustments such as printed versions of your online materials. You can also contact the Disability Support team to discuss your needs.

Reduce aches and pains

It's important to find ways and places to study that are comfortable for you. Here are some tips.

  • Make sure you study in a comfortable chair that gives you the right back support.
  • If you sit at a desk make sure your set-up is as comfortable as possible, ideally your feet should be flat on the floor and, as you type, your forearms should be horizontal to the floor with your elbows bent at around 90 degrees.
  • Use a footrest if needed.
  • If you often study with a laptop from your couch, try using a laptop tray or something underneath your laptop so it is not resting on your legs.
  • If you have an appropriate space such as a free length of kitchen counter or a high table, you could experiment with standing up to study and work on assignments, if this is comfortable to you.
  • When using a mobile or tablet to study, try to find a position that will support your back and neck as much as possible.

Try to spread out your study time, but if you do plan to study for a long period of time, over several hours, you should remember to take breaks. Try to take a break at least once an hour. Get up and stretch or go for a walk. Use a timer, such as an alarm on your mobile device or computer to remind you when to take a break.

Also consider the device you are using. Mobile devices such as tablets and e-readers can be useful for reading materials but are likely to cause you discomfort if you are working from them all the time or trying to type an assignment on them. Funding is available, if you meet the eligibility criteria, to help you to purchase a computer. If you live in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland this is through Funding for study-related costs and in Scotland through Discretionary funds for study-related costs. See Funding for computers, internet and childcare etc. for more information.

If you have declared, or are able to provide evidence, of a disability or health condition you may be eligible to request adjustments such as ergonomic equipment or furniture to help you study comfortably. You can also contact the Disability Support team to discuss your needs.

Improve your concentration

When studying on a computer or laptop there are many opportunities to become distracted from study. If you find that this is the case for you, one strategy you could try it is to set up a separate study account on your computer. See Setting up separate accounts on your computer for more information. This may also be useful if you share a computer with other family members and want to keep your study separate.

It’s also important to keep your study documents on your computer or device organised so you don't need to spend time looking around for them. Ensuring you have an effective filing system on your computer or device can help with this. See the How to organise your computer files.

You can also improve your concentration by effectively managing your time whether you are studying on screen of off. See the article Time management skills for some useful tips. You could also try the Plan your time tool. Remember to plan in study breaks especially if you plan to study over a long period of time in one sitting.

Ensuring your friends and family are aware of your study plans and that you will need their support to concentrate and manage your time effectively is also important. The article Friends and family has some useful talking points or you can ask them to have a look at the article themselves.

Take care of your mental wellbeing

Studying a screen can also have in impact on your mental wellbeing. Managing your time, taking breaks and ensuring you get time away from your computer or device can help with this, but at times studying may feel isolating or overwhelming.

There is, however, lots of support available to you, from tips to improve your mental wellbeing, to additional support the OU can offer and how to access professional help. See our Mental health and wellbeing section.

Last updated 2 months ago