The Pros and Cons of Screen Time
When my doctor said that she was not a fan of social media for people with migraine because computer screens are triggering, I knew she probably had some good science to back her up. I looked into it, and much to my dismay, she does.
According to one study from the Headache Research Foundation in Boston, computer screens and television exposure triggered significantly more head pain for people with chronic headache as compared to the control group. They concluded that eye strain factors are “far more important than is generally recognized” for people with chronic head pain.¹
I found several studies suggesting that people with migraine have a hyper-excitable visual cortex, making them particularly susceptible to pain as a result of visual stimuli. One article explains, “A strong physiological visual input may cause a spread of excitation through hyper-excitable cortex, leading to neurons firing inappropriately and thereby resulting in perceptual illusions and distortions, and possibly promoting a migraine attack.”²
There have been further studies done to determine the specific impact of “VDAs” (computer monitors) on office workers, and all results, whether caused by the screen itself, poor posture, or work-related stress, point to screen time as a potential trigger for head pain.³
My research was far from exhaustive (I’m trying to minimize my screen time, okay?), but it’s clear that the medical community has established a clear link, not just between visual stimuli and migraine, but also between migraine and the computer screens that are all pervasive in our modern lives.
I know from my own experience that television monitors, computer screens, movie theatres, and smartphones are all potent migraine triggers for me, but nonetheless I find myself in front of them for hours every day.
Why do I find it so hard to unplug?
Despite my wish to minimize screen time, my perpetual use is not a mere lack of willpower, because these things are a necessary part of my everyday life and work. Not only are they necessary in how I support myself financially, but they have also come to feel necessary on an emotional level. Social media can be a place for learning, commiserating, and feeling the presence of others who understand what I'm going through. Hashtags such as #spoonieproblems, #chroniclife and #migraine are my happy place. TV and computer time can be helpful distractions when I just want to take my mind off the pain. Sites such as this one provide helpful information that I can take to my doctor to help in devising an effective treatment plan. And lastly (but not leastly), the aesthetic perfection of my Pinterest feed soothes my soul!!
I suppose that the amount of screen time we allow ourselves is like every other daily micro-decision made when dealing with migraine triggers: we must constantly weigh the benefits and costs to our health, and check in with our body from moment to moment to gauge what feels okay.
Some things that might help our visual cortex chill out include:
- Colored lenses
- Aps such as “f.lux” that alter computer screen to mimic the time of day
- Avoiding computer use two hours before bed
- An ergonomic computer station
What strategies help you to deal with triggering screen time?
Can you tell when a migraine attack is coming?