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Screen Migraines Are Not Fun, Here’s 7 Things That Might Help

Screen migraines can feel a little inevitable these days, since most of us spend a ton of time staring at our devices. We’re working from our computers all day, streaming from our tablets and televisions in the evenings, and constantly glancing at our phones for anything and everything. Screens are so ubiquitous that they’re hard to avoid, which is pretty problematic if staring at a screen is a migraine trigger for you.

Migraines are a neurological disease that cause all sorts of symptoms, one of the most common being light sensitivity. This means you are extremely sensitive to things like bright light, natural light, and changes in light, as they all intensify migraine pain and discomfort.

As you might have guessed, screens can aggravate this light sensitivity, Dawn Buse, PhD, clinical professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, explains. “Someone with migraine may have a hypersensitive nervous system that finds the light painful,” she says, and that can extend beyond migraine attacks. You might be extremely sensitive to light all the time, which can make all this screen time a huge challenge.

In the hyper-digital world we live in, most people can’t just ditch their electronic devices altogether—so we need to go for the next best option: finding ways to deal with it. Here, migraine experts share their tips for managing when staring at screens all day tends to trigger or exacerbate your symptoms. 

1. Filter out blue light.

Research shows that blue light can intensify migraine pain compared to green or white light. This means that if you’re already experiencing migraine symptoms, staring at a computer, phone, or any other device that emits blue light might leave you feeling even worse. Dr. Buse recommends trying blue light glasses, which filter out some wavelengths of light that contribute to eye strain. She suggests one brand called TheraSpecs that makes blue light glasses specifically for people with screen migraines.

If blue light glasses aren’t your thing, you still have another option. Dr. Buse suggests swapping your phone over to Night Shift mode, which alters its display to use warmer tones and emit less blue light. You may also be able to do the same thing on your computer, depending on the type you have.

2. Ditch the harsh overhead lighting.

One helpful adjustment you can make in your home is to ditch bright overhead lights. Fluorescent lights in particular are typically too bright and harsh and can exacerbate someone’s headaches, Emad Estemalik, MD, section head for headache and facial pain at Cleveland Clinic’s Neurological Institute and assistant professor of neurology at the Lerner School of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University, explains.

So what lights should you choose? Generally, incandescent bulbs are a better option than fluorescent and LED bulbs, and lights with a warm yellow or golden tone will probably be more comfortable for you than those with cooler tones like white or blue, Dr. Buse says. You can also try dimming the lights or using a desk lamp so you don’t even need to turn on those harsh overhead lights. This can also help if you work in an office and have your own space where you can control the lighting to some extent.

3. Look away from your screen every once in a while.

Periodic breaks from all these screens give your eyes time to rest. Dr. Estemalik suggests taking about five minutes away from your computer or phone every 45 minutes or so. “If you’ve been in a Zoom meeting for an hour, and then you have a break, don’t go to your phone to read unnecessary stuff,” he says. “Just stand up and walk and maybe do other things.”