brain drain
June 12, 2009 7:59 AM   Subscribe

I spend 8 hours a day in front of a computer. By the last 2-3 hours in the day it feels like my brain is melting when I look at the screen. What should I do??

I just measured that my face is about 22 inches from the monitor. Am I getting a brain tumor?
posted by Jason and Laszlo to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Get your eyes checked.
posted by desjardins at 8:11 AM on June 12, 2009


Take breaks every half an hour to stretch and look at something in the distance. I keep at timer running on my computer; when the timer goes off I stretch out my back, legs and chest. Every other time I go to get a glass of water so I can look down the long hallway for a few minutes. It keeps me from feeling like crap at the end of the day.
posted by Loto at 8:12 AM on June 12, 2009

No, you are certainly not getting a brain tumor. Your brain is melting because you've been doing the same monotonous things for the last 6 hours and it wants to do something else.

I would recommend going outside and taking a walk if that's possible. If not, go do some push-ups somewhere (I'm serious - some sort of exercise to get your body active). If you're too shy to do that in the workplace then find something to do that doesn't involve you staring at a computer screen. Run a message by hand instead of email. Write out a list of things you need to do on paper instead of on the computer. For that matter, you could write drafts of important emails or letters by hand, edit them, and then enter them into the computer.

After doing something else for awhile, finishing the last hour or so at your desk should seem far more palatable.
posted by scrutiny at 8:15 AM on June 12, 2009

stretch and look at something in the distance

yes, start here.
posted by philip-random at 8:16 AM on June 12, 2009


I experienced a similar, hard-to-describe feeling (like a killer headache but... not painful?) when I was in college and attempting to pursue a Computer Science major. The health center helpfully said, "well, if you had a tumor, you'd probably be puking." I eventually figured out that it was a combination of staring at the screen, frustration at the projects I was trying so hard to figure out, and excessive chatter in the computer lab. I dropped the major and the feeling never came back.

That may not be the most helpful advice, but it's possible that something else in your environment is contributing to your fatigue. Is there a lot of background noise? Is your workload overwhelming? Do you spend most of those hours doing a repetitive task on the computer? Etc., etc. All of these things can contribute to that brain-melting feeling.

Absolutely take breaks when you can, and take them away from your desk whenever possible. Taking a walk outside or just poking around the nearby drugstore help me.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:27 AM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I started getting something similar. It felt like I was suspended over the monitor and if I looked away I'd fall into it. The problem went away when I stopped taking lunch at my desk. I usually read in the cafeteria instead. Two 3:45 hour periods in front of the computer is easier on the eyes than one eight hour session.

I'll also second what everyone else said. Take a walk or two over the course of the day. Use the bathroom at the other end of the building. Hell, use the one two floors up. If you really can't leave your desk, focus on the ceiling or the far wall for 30 seconds once an hour.
posted by valadil at 8:42 AM on June 12, 2009

I had similar problems, and my eye doc suggested that I get some less powerful glasses for long computer work. Ok, they're reading glasses. Stop making me feel old. It's amazingly more comfortable. See an optometrist, since this is their job.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:56 AM on June 12, 2009

Yes it is a huge brain tumor!!!!!!

Not really.!?

I have the same problem as you. I sit in front of a computer for roughly 10 hours at work and then go home, eat dinner and do schooling online for another hour or so, halfway through the day my brain has melted.

I usually get up and walk away for a few minutes, change the angle of screen slightly and move some of the stuff around on my desk to create a "new look". It is a little unorthodox, but it seems to correct the issue for a little bit, rinse repeat.
posted by Gravitus at 8:56 AM on June 12, 2009

Good suggestions so far, I've had the same issue when staring at code for 8 hours a day. Other than not staring at the screen so much, there are tricks to make the actual screen itself less eye-strain-inducing. If you're on Windows, switch on ClearType fonts to make text a littler easier on your eyes.

I'm not sure if it applies to you, but one thing that drastically reduced my issues was to switch the color scheme on my text editor that I spend most of my day staring at to white on black instead of black on white. My coworkers make fun of me for looking like a hacker, but for me at least several hours looking at a mostly black screen makes a huge difference. If you do that, make sure you keep the contrast high though, because low contrast text is much harder on your eyes no matter what colors you use.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:58 AM on June 12, 2009

Do you have any ergonomics people or programs at your work? Our health and safety group is always ready and willing to look at how you sit and see if improvements can be made or equipment purchased to correct workstation issues.
posted by Big_B at 9:14 AM on June 12, 2009

Ditto burnmp3s -- I have all my frequently used apps configured to use light text on a dark background (#D7D7CF on #1F1F1F, to be exact.) If I ever revert, my eyes bother me in short order.

The 20/20/20 rule is a guideline for eye breaks. I doubt there are any studies validating those exact numbers, but it's obvious breaks will help and that doesn't seem like a bad place to start.
posted by Zed at 9:25 AM on June 12, 2009

Go outside and look at nature. The irregular shapes and wider range of colors is a refreshing change.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:30 AM on June 12, 2009

Many good suggestions above, but just to kick it old school, I'll throw this in: on the off chance that you're still using a CRT monitor, make sure you're using a sufficiently high refresh rate. 60 Hz is deadly on the eyes. 75 Hz was always minimum for me to avoid headaches, and if you can go higher, so much the better.

Better yet, if you're still using a CRT, consider switching to an LCD. They are (IMO) much easier on the eyes for extended monitor usage.
posted by captainawesome at 9:46 AM on June 12, 2009

Along the lines of looking away from your monitor and taking a break, try Workrave or AntiRSI. As the names imply, they're designed to help prevent RSI, but the core functionality (nagging you to take a break every so often) will suit your needs just as well, and they can be easily configured with custom settings, according to the 20/20/20 rule above or some other schedule that works for you. Like others above, I've found that breaking my focus on the monitor helps me work for longer stretches of time.
posted by AnimalKing at 11:17 AM on June 12, 2009

Eye-related advice is covered sufficiently above, but very recent positive personal experience suggests to me that the "brain melting" might involve mental fatigue and a loss of focus, which can have many contributing factors.

At the risk of sounding trite, but with no other information about you, I wonder how your physical fitness is overall. That's an easily overlooked detail that can make work a headachey, irritable, and unfocused mess, even with no other apparent health problems. I had no idea how big of an impact vitamins could have on mental acuity, for example. That's a matter for you to discuss with a doctor, though -- start with frequent breaks and get the blood pumping with a bit of "office exercise" like push-ups or jumping jacks, and go from there.
posted by jake at 11:35 AM on June 12, 2009

I had similar problems, and my eye doc suggested that I get some less powerful glasses for long computer work. Ok, they're reading glasses. Stop making me feel old. It's amazingly more comfortable. See an optometrist, since this is their job.

I have basically normal vision and have found that these computer glasses alleviate most of my eye strain after spending 8+ hours staring at a monitor. They are essentially reading glasses with a +.25 diopter magnification, plus a slight tint that increases contrast. I also take leave the office for lunch, which involves walking and looking at things much further away than my monitor and other points inside our building.
posted by puffin at 12:22 PM on June 12, 2009

If you have a Mac, setup a timer using Flextime
posted by chrisalbon at 12:33 PM on June 12, 2009

My eye doctor says to remember to blink! Also, keep some eyedrops at your desk.
posted by hooray at 5:47 PM on June 12, 2009

Get your eyes checked out - turns out I need glasses for computer use only and I spent a couple of years working in front of a computer without knowing this and suffering as a result. Also 2nding anybody who said mental fatigue - get up, stretch, make sure you take a lunch break however short away from your computer.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:17 AM on June 13, 2009

I am having a very similar experience.

I concluded that sitting in front of an object for 10 hours a day and focusing all my energy as mental effort is a limiting experience for me as a human animal. So I am looking for ways to mix it up.

During work, I started I take lunch. I speak with my colleagues. I sketch my designs on paper.
After work, I started dancing, yoga, martial arts.

Find ways to move and focus in your body.
posted by andreinla at 1:06 PM on June 13, 2009

As captainawesome said, I had a very similar experience when I was using CRT monitors, but when I switched to LCDs, the problem went away (at least most of the time). I'll never go back.
posted by Vorteks at 7:38 AM on July 7, 2009

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