While reading mainly consists of using only your eyes, there is a lot to consider when you want to read pleasantly. This includes considerations of how your environment looks and feels. You cannot enjoy a good book while feeling tired and irritable. To address this, we will explore the different areas of a reading environment that may affect your eyes during the activity. In addition, we will also be looking at the difference between traditional paper-based reading and using video display terminals from your mobile phones and computers. As we are on the topic of video displays, we will surely touch upon the topic of digital eye strain and the factors that really cause this condition.
What is a Harmful Reading Environment
Before we head into the appropriate reading environment recommended by medical professionals, we should first ask: “Is there such a thing as a BAD reading environment?”. While some environmental conditions, such as temperature and humidity, are completely subjective in how they affect an individual, lighting is most probably objective.
Aside from the obvious environment in lighting conditions, there are other factors in reading satisfaction. These factors include seat and table height, sitting position, print or font size and structure, and your own personal condition. When your environment does not promote these factors, you not only compromise your eyes, but your overall health might also suffer.
To avoid these harmful practices, we will discuss certain environments in two reading modes. While paper-based and digital reading share some fundamental approaches to reading, we should have several unique considerations, such as the medium’s physical adjustability and feature customizability.
Traditional Book Reading Environment
Even way back to the start of the 20th century, opticians have already been aware of paper-based reading malpractices and their consequences. In a 1904 medical journal on eye strain and its consequences, a doctor described their ideal environment for book reading. The following are the recommendations:
- Ample Lighting: the doctor encourages the use of windows during their time. The most important point is that shadows should not obstruct the letters in the reading material.
- Seating: readers should use customized seats while encouraging the user to sit erect without slouching at the back and the neck. This means that the reading material must be at eye level, and the light source should be at the back and over the shoulders.
- Print: As much as possible, procure reading materials with a bold and clear print, minimizing squinting and adjusting positions to read.
- Rest: assign frequent reading breaks and do less eye-focused and demanding tasks during these breaks. At the same time, do not read (especially in the comfort of your bed) when you know your eyes are tired or fatigued.
Reading is an incredibly taxing task for our eyes due to its immense need for focus. Our eyes strain when it experiences fatigue in the ciliary muscles due to extended fine motor movements. The author recommended all of the conditions above as it lessens the burden that our eyes experience when reading.
Video Displays and Digital Eye Strain
One thing that scientists notice with the age of digital media is the rise of digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome. Moving away from the constraints of the environment, the hazards to our eyes are now in the medium itself. Since the light of video displays shines directly onto our eyes, it affects the eyes specifically through its own system. This system includes brightness, contrast, screen glare, and screen refresh rate.
Specifically, each of these functions affects the eyes in their own way. The following are some examples:
- Low refresh rates of the screens can cause flickering, which is known to contribute to digital eye strain.
- Digital display viewing can reduce blink rate and cause incomplete blinking, causing dry eyes for users.
- Low contrast and small font size can also reduce a user’s blink rate.
To avoid having symptoms of digital eye strain, we can apply some practices grounded in traditional reading environments to modern digital reading. Here is how you can do them:
- Adjust screen brightness: make it a habit to change your screen’s brightness to match the brightness of your room. Be sure that it is not too glaringly high or too dimly lit.
- Invest in a good screen: the minimum recommended refresh rate by the Video Electronics Standards Association is 75Hz.
- Remember that you can zoom in on small fonts: common browsers allow zooming in on text using “CTRL + Scroll Up”.
- Take eye rests: try to focus on something farther away than your screen at around 20 ft for 20 seconds. Do this every 20 minutes of work on screen.
As our computers continue to provide plenty of advantages through convenience alone, are traditional paper-based reading materials becoming obsolete? You can remedy bad reading fatigue by managing your environment and taking a rest. Furthermore, the medium you use simply modifies the adjustments you should make to care for your eyes. However, in terms of performance in each medium, how does each fare?
Paper-based Reading vs. Digital Book Reading
Upon the rise of video display terminals, researchers performed loads of studies on paper-based reading, comparing it to digital reading. Most of the findings note subjective observable eye strain. The two other variables noted were reading comprehension and reading speed.
To see the practical and mental applications of our discussion on eye health, we turn to an earlier study conducted in 2001. Researchers tested reading comprehension and reading speed with and without a mental workload. Paper-based readers had a faster reading speed when participants did not have a mental workload in the form of working memory. However, the digital readers were faster when the participants had a mental workload while reading. In terms of their reading comprehension, paper-based readers boasted higher comprehension scores.
More recent research in 2010 shows the same results for better reading comprehension through physical books. This does not automatically mean that one is better than the other. There are advantages to each medium suited for different tasks.
Throughout all these results, one of the things that the researchers control is the type of screen used and the environment they are in. Additionally, as these results come from a long time ago, these may not reflect the way things are right now. As we apply the adjustments and practices discussed in this reading, we must be able to attain a reading performance suited to ourselves.