The '20-20-20 rule' can help reduce eye strain in the office – Here's how it works

Taking short screen breaks from your screen could help reduce your levels of eye strain and feelings of fatigue at work

Woman suffers from eye strain at her work computer desk
(Image credit: Getty)

Staring at a screen all day isn't healthy for anyone but it's hard to avoid when you work at a desk for your 9-5. While you might already do things like dim your brightness settings on your laptop or wear a pair of blue light glasses, you still might be looking for other ways to avoid eye strain at work.

Some people get themselves one of the best desk lamps so that they have more control over the light settings in their immediate workspace. However, not everyone has the freedom to do this in the office they work in. 

What you do have control over is how often you look away from the screen in front of you and allow your eyes to rest. This is where the '20-20-20 rule' comes in handy.

If you haven't heard of the '20-20-20' rule before then essentially it is a simple reminder for you to peel your eyes away from your computer screen every twenty minutes, and look at something that is 20 feet away from you for 20 seconds.

Office workers look away from laptop screen

(Image credit: Getty)

Humans are supposed to blink around 15 times in a minute but when we stare at a screen for long periods of time this number can decrease to a half or third of this. As a result, your eyes can feel dry, more irritable, and sleepy.

A Californian optometrist called Jeffrey Anshel shared the '20-20-20 rule' as a reminder for people to take regular breaks from computer screens to avoid any negative symptoms brought on by eye strain.

There isn't scientific evidence using the exact '20-20-20' rule but studies have been conducted to test out the general principle of taking frequent screen breaks.

For example, one study published in the Nepalese Journal of Opthalmology examined computer use and the impact it had on a group of Malaysian university students. Nearly 90% of the 795 participants experienced symptoms of computer vision syndrome (CVS) after two continuous hours of computer work. However, when the students took frequent breaks and looked at faraway objects throughout screen periods they significantly lowered their eye strain symptoms.

You don't need to religiously stick to every twenty-minute guideline as your daily tasks might not accommodate this kind of setup. But research does suggest any form of screen break from repetitive desk work is beneficial for your eyes.

Alex Ionides, Ophthalmic Surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital and co-founder of eye health brand MTHK, also recommends patients the '20-20-20 rule' but has shared some additional steps to help prevent eye strain at work.

An eye expert's guide to preventing eye strain

  • Position your screen - It is recommended that you aim to keep computer screens about 50cm-65cm away, and mobiles and tablets about 30cm-50cm away. To avoid hunching over your screen try and keep it elevated in front of you. Don't forget you can increase the font size to make words and images easier to see and lower the strain on your eyes.
  • Stay hydrated - If you are dehydrated this will make dry eye symptoms worse. Drink plenty of water throughout the day–you can pick up one of the best water bottles for the gym from our roundup to take into work with you. Don't substitute water with coffee either.
  • Use an anti-reflective coating - If you are a glasses wearer then it might be worthwhile asking your optician about adding an anti-reflective coating to your specs. A coating like this can minimize the glare that streams out of your screen and lessen the strain your eyes may face.
Jessica Downey

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her career in journalism began in local news and she holds a Masters in journalism. Jessica has previously written for Runners World, penning news and features on fitness, sportswear and nutrition. 

When she isn't writing up news and features for Fit&Well covering topics ranging from muscle building, to yoga, to female health and so on, she will be outdoors somewhere, testing out the latest fitness equipment and accessories to help others find top products for their own fitness journeys. Her testing pairs up nicely with her love for running. She recently branched out to running 10Ks and is trying to improve her time before moving on to larger races. Jessica also enjoys building on her strength in the gym and is a believer in health and wellness beginning in the kitchen. She shares all of this on her running Instagram account @jessrunshere which she uses for accountability and for connecting with like-minded fitness lovers.