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The 20-20-20 Rule Prevents the Hazards Of Screen Stress

...and reduces screen fatigue, boosts health, and recharges your energy.

Photo by Oguzhan Akdogan on Unsplash
The 20-20-20 rule prevents the hazards of prolonged screen time.
Source: Photo by Oguzhan Akdogan on Unsplash

Spending long periods looking at screens can strain your eyes and add to screen fatigue. Computer vision syndrome (CVS) is a condition in which you experience one or more of eye symptoms as a result of prolonged working on a computer. It can result in headaches, eye strain, eye-watering, eye redness, and blurred vision.

A Malaysian study surveyed 795 Malaysian college students aged 18 to 25 years regarding the demography, use of spectacles, duration of daily continuous use of a computer, symptoms of CVS preventive measures taken to reduce the symptoms, use of radiation filters on the computer screen, and lighting in the room. The results of the study showed the prevalence of symptoms of CVS (one or more) to be 89.9 percent; the most disturbing symptom was headache (19.7 percent) followed by eye strain (16.4 percent).

Students who used computers for more than 2 hours per day experienced significantly more symptoms of CVS. Looking at far objects in-between the work was significantly associated with less frequency of CVS symptoms. The use of a radiation filter on the screen did not help in reducing the CVS symptoms. The researchers concluded that 90 percent of university students in Malaysia experienced symptoms related to CVS, which was seen more often in those who used computers for more than 2 hours continuously per day.

The 20-20-20 Rule

Using the 20-20-20 rule can help you prevent stress and strain. The rule says that for every 20 minutes spent looking at a screen, you take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away, which relaxes the eye muscles for 20 seconds and gives your brain a much-needed respite.

Here’s how the rule works: Set an alarm or time popup for every 20 minutes when you’re working in front of a screen as a reminder to get up and move around. It takes 20 seconds for your eyes to fully relax. Every 20 minutes for 20 seconds walk around the room, hydrate yourself, close your eyes, or look out a window—perhaps at a tree, squirrel, or some aspect of nature. Take off your shoes and dig your toes into the carpet for 20 seconds. Other tips to complement the 20-20-20 rule include:

  • Remember to blink often to prevent dry eye and encourage tear production
  • Use artificial tears or eye drops to mitigate some of the CVS effects
  • Make sure your computer text is large enough so you don’t have to squint to prevent eye strain
  • Get regular eye check-ups so your prescriptions are up to date
  • Change settings so your screen is bright enough to read the text without straining.
  • Eliminate monitor glare from overhead lights or a nearby window with an anti-glare screen filter to protect your eyes

Is Screen Stress The New Smoking?

Prolonged sitting in front of your screen has been described as “the new smoking.” Research also has shown that prolonged sitting in the same position can create other problems such as back and neck pain. It has even been linked to serious illnesses like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Some studies have found that it is equal to or worse than smoking cigarettes.

According to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, which looked at more than 4 million individuals and 68,936 cancer cases, sitting for long periods of time increases your risk for colon, endometrial, and, possibly, lung cancer. The study found that even in physically active individuals, sitting increased the risk, and the risk worsened with each two-hour increase in sitting time. Other research links long-term sedentary habits with breast and colon cancer. And a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology reported that people who sat for more than six hours a day leads to an earlier death than those who sat for three hours or less a day.

The 20-20-20 rule also can mitigate the harmful effects of sitting for the deadly six hours at a time. Every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds or more to get away from your screen, walk 20 feet away to get a drink of water, look out a window, stretch your body, or chat with a colleague.


It only makes sense that the 20-20-20 rule maximizes your chances of avoiding serious physical and mental health problems. When your eyes are rested, your body is refreshed and your stamina high, your health, happiness, and peace of mind will be better. Taken together, the research points to the importance of staying active to mitigate the harmful effects of screen fatigue and boost your energy and productivity. The American Physical Therapy Association recommends two to four hours of standing and light activity during the day. Standing and working in front of your screen, regular exercise, chair yoga, or simply removing yourself from the screen to move around for 20 seconds also helps. Staying active during the day also assuages mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

LinkedIn Image Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock


Reddy, S., Low, C., Lim, Y., Low, L., Mardina, F., & Nursaleha, M. (2013). Computer vision syndrome: a study of knowledge and practices in university students. Nepalese Journal of Ophthalmology, 5(2), 161-168.

Schmid, D., & Colditz, G. (2014). Sedentary behavior increases the risk of certain cancers. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 106 (7).

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