How can I stop my computer screen from fogging my brain?
February 24, 2014 6:15 PM   Subscribe

I have to stare at this thing an awful lot for work, and of course I stare at it recreationally too. But after a few hours a horrible dazed feeling creeps up on me. It's not eye strain, I don't get a headache. I just stop being able to think straight. This is not viable. What do I do about it?

The same thing happens, though much more quickly and intensely, with fluorescent lights. I straight up cannot handle big-box stores, because I get loopy and drifty and confused and very very anxious. This has been a problem with every computer screen I've ever had, in whatever kind of ambient light (though it's worse when the room I'm in is dark). This is a really close description, though I don't get the nausea described.

All I've found online is a few descriptions of similar experiences. I haven't found any good ideas about how to deal with it. As this screen is a pretty integral part of my life for the foreseeable future, it would be freaking fantastic to be able to minimize this effect. Does anyone have any ideas? If anyone else gets this, how do you deal with it? I know the take-breaks advice, and that helps somewhat, but it's cumulative, and even an hour away doesn't completely eliminate the effects of earlier exposure.

I am pretty light-sensitive, and I do have a bit of a sun allergy, and yeah, upon reflection I guess I have problems with a lot of lighting. But this one is the most inconvenient. Any ideas about how to stop this stupid, stupid thing from happening would be incredibly welcome.
posted by Because to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I wonder if some sort of projected image might be better. How do you do at the movies? Also, what about Google Glass type displays?
posted by ottereroticist at 6:25 PM on February 24, 2014

I think getting your eyes further back from the screen would help a lot. Maybe a bigger display, and move it to the very back of your desk? Or even better, project it on the opposite wall and sit across the room.
posted by mekily at 6:32 PM on February 24, 2014

Have you tried installing something like f.lux? I found it's almost entirely eliminated my screen fatigue, which can indeed have all the symptoms you describe.
posted by mykescipark at 6:55 PM on February 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

That the fluorescent lights create the effect worse makes me think it's related to the screen refresh rate (the speed of the flicker). Lamp flicker at 50 or 60Hz, depending which country you're in (UK? 50Hz) Screens usually start at about 60Hz, so they're not as hard on you, but you can often set them higher, and you'll want to try setting your refresh rate as high as you can. (Especially on CRT monitors.)

I don't know what OS your computer is, but if it's win7-ish, under Control Panel > Display > Screen Resolution there is a link to Advanced Settings, once there, click on the Monitor tab, and see if it will offer a higher refresh than 60Hz.

It probably won't - depending on your graphics cable, the OS might not know what monitor is connected, and it won't want to overdrive a monitor that can't do it, so it might just play it safe and only offer 60Hz. Or you might have a monitor that can only do 60Hz

But you might also be able to find a more informed Screen Refresh Rate setting in your graphics card utility, or your monitor.

Refresh rate is ultimately a property of what the monitor is capable of, so it's kind of luck whether or not it will be possible to raise it Right This Minute with your current setup, but some monitors can do much higher refresh rates (90Hz and higher, etc) so you could look for one of those.
posted by anonymisc at 6:56 PM on February 24, 2014

Did you try to adjust the color settings of your monitor?
Computer screens have a lot of blue mixed in, which translate to a very bright screen. This measure of the shade of whiteness is actually called correlated color temperature and describes the visible light. It can range from yellow-ish-white to very bright blue-ish-white. Fluorescent lamps often have a high color temperature (5000K+, K = Kelvin), thus appear very bright. You can read more about it on the wiki.

When you buy light bulbs they usually say what kind of light they give (in K and/or Lumen). I once bought a super bright bulb and could not tolerate it for long periods of time. However, it sounds like you're probably even more light-sensitive, so definitely give your monitor settings a try.
As for breaks: I find it helps way more to go outside and walk/move a bit. It does clear the brain fog faster.
posted by travelwithcats at 6:56 PM on February 24, 2014

Wow! I have this problem, too, including the big box store issue. Just being inside big box stores (esp. grocery stores) make me tired and very, very, very hostile. I had no idea it was "a thing", so to speak, and you're the first person I've encountered who has the same problem! I am especially sensitive to flicker, so the days of 60Hz monitors drove me up a wall. So many headaches, so much mental fog.

Like you, I spend lots of time in front of monitors. I have found the following things to help, but not alleviate the problem entirely. YMMV, of course.

1. I cannot be in a dark room with a computer screen or TV screen. I have to be in a bright environment if I'm working on a computer or if I have to watch TV for long periods. You might try keeping your surroundings very bright when you're working with a screen. There is something about the ambient bright lighting that makes it more tolerable. Experiment with the bright light in front of you and behind you.

2. Experiment with the gamma settings and color settings on your monitor. Also, experiment with different backgrounds/font colors. For me, dark backgrounds with light text are worse--the light text seems to oscillate, getting larger/smaller. Light, desaturated backgrounds (e.g. light grays) work better for me than pure white. Shifting towards red feels less uncomfortable for me than blue shifts.

3. I second mekily with sitting back as far as you can. The closer I am, the more the pixels seem to scintillate or sizzle for me.

4. Try tinted glasses. I will sometimes work with my sunglasses on--amber/brown lenses seem to help me a bit. Might be worth a shot.

5. Exercise really helps me. I get up frequently, do a few sets of push ups, squats, whatever, and it seems to help reset my nervous system. So does taking a really fast walk or running up/down the stairs. Meditation doesn't cut it for me; has to be something very brisk/sharp/heart rate raising. Something that my body recognizes as a hard mode reset. You might experiment with movement and see if that helps.

6. Try using full spectrum art lights in your workspace. I find that these really do help me when working at a screen. Compact fluros. are the worst for me.

7. Experiment with refresh rates and resolution on your monitor/graphics card. Choose the highest possible refresh rate (hopefully above 60Hz) that your OS offers you.

I hope that some of these ideas help!
posted by skye.dancer at 7:00 PM on February 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is so weird, but I also have this problem. For me, suddenly moving into the bright sunlight is sometimes unbearable. Fluorescent lights for 8 hours makes me cranky, and makes me overly fatigued/feel weird.

I use f.lux and lower the brightness of my monitors, and like skye.dancer, find that exercising even a little bit helps. And sunglasses for outside. Good luck!
posted by Red Desk at 10:41 PM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd like to nth f.lux and also suggest gaming glasses like these. And I recently discovered that there are different kinds of computer monitors like non-glare, matte, etc. You may want to consider one of those if you don't have one already.
posted by madonna of the unloved at 1:09 AM on February 25, 2014

I get optical migraines usually triggered by flickering lights, so not exactly the same problem, but does lead to me spacing out and unable to think in some big box stores,, but things that have helped me include

Making sure the whole room is well lit and the monitor isn't the only source of light on the room.
Making sure none of the lights reflect off of the screen I am looking at.
Getting prescription glass. My optometrist was on the fence about me getting them as my prescription is so low but they made a world of difference to me.
Refresh rates fiddled with.
Changing my computer wallpaper and color scheme and minimising the amount of clutter on the desktop, keeping it all very minimalist helps me focus when I do vague out. I found the Fences software handy for this.
posted by wwax at 7:34 AM on February 25, 2014

This sounds odd, but blinking more can help -- we tend to blink undermuch when watching monitors, and that can lead our eyes (and thence brains) to feel a bit fuzzier. Something to add to other possible solutions, anyway.
posted by acm at 9:12 AM on February 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had the same problem and I installed f.lux on my computer to control the color settings on my display after dark. Maybe try playing with it?

It's really weird at first, so give it some time. Once I've gotten used to it, I can't stand staring at a monitor with normal color settings when it's dark-ish out.
posted by nosila at 2:21 PM on February 25, 2014

Also, go and have a dilated eye exam with a GOOD optometrist (second best) or an ophthalmologist (an actual eye MD).

I was diagnosed with an eye cancer in 2012, and one of the very few signs (which I ignored) was an oddly fuzzy 'difficulty seeing'.

Just to be on the safe side, have your eyes checked.
posted by jrochest at 6:17 PM on February 25, 2014

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