After I published my recent article on the importance of wearing computer glasses to protect your eyes from harmful blue light, I thought to myself - surely I can replace my current screen with a 'healthy' monitor.
I wasn't expecting to find a monitor with a health tick or anything like that (though I later discovered there is such a thing!) I simply figured if I could find something that was built in a way to minimise the harm on my eyes and brain then this is going to be better for my eyes, my productivity and ultimately my health.
This would require some serious time sorting through peer reviewed published literature.
The search for the healthiest monitor had begun. This article is the result of my research.
Not only to I share the best monitor for biohackers on the market today, I also look at the good and bad technology used in monitors today and what you need to know when it comes to finding the healthiest monitor for your eyes and productivity.
In this blog post I'll cover:
Let's start with the beginning. It turns out that what you didn't know about could hurt you:
I've covered the problem with computer monitors in my previous blog post on computer screen glasses, but I'll briefly restate the problem here:
All computer screens "flicker". Flicker is the periodically turning activation and de-activation of light emissions from the screen.
Different monitors flicker at different rates. A 60 Hertz monitor, for instance, turns on and off 60 times per second. A 75 Hertz monitor does the same thing 75 times a second.
You get the idea. That turning on and off for many times per second is what actually irritates your brain.
Some negative health consequence of flicker is headaches or migraines, eye problems, less relaxation, poorer brain performance, and increased overall arousal (3: 4; 5).
The arousal effect can be equated to drinking a few cups of coffee: you can experience excessive wakefulness that's similar to stress or a "fight or flight" response. In evolution, that fight or flight response was meant to be activated if you were in acute danger from predators, for instance.
But if you trigger that fight or flight response at the wrong time, when it's not needed, or very frequently, you end up with chronic stress.
Continuous flicker is thus a stressor on the human body that most people cannot avoid. In general, lower flicker such as 30 Hertz is interpreted as less pleasant as higher levels of flicker, such as 75 Hertz (6).
Flicker is the reason you feel very different reading on a computer screen versus reading a book. I certainly feel that difference - I love reading books but hate reading screens for very long!
Again, the effects of flicker are not exaggerated: flicker literally changes the pattern of brain areas that are activated (7).
Just to illustrate how extraordinary flicker is: at 60 Hertz, a monitor flickers more than 200,000 times an hour. That number translates to 1,600,000 times turning on and off in an 8-hour workday.
That's a lot of flickering!
Glare places an even bigger demand on your eyes and brain. "Glare" is light in your environment that reflects off your computer screen, thereby increasing your eye strain.
Most people find glare very irritating.
Studies actually show that looking at a monitor with more glare increases eye strain and makes several muscles around your eyes work harder (19; 20).
The solution to glare is to avoid having the sunshine behind you, which usually makes sunlight reflect off your monitor. Sunlight from the sides is usually tolerated much better.
Let's now look at what health consequences you experience if you use computer monitors for multiple hours a day:
Many people are working at computer screens for 8 hours or more a day today. In their spare time, they're also watching television, using their smartphone, and using yet another computer.
The end result is that you're integrating a ton of screen time into your life.
And while I've covered the topic of screen time in more detail in my earlier blog post on computer glasses, I do think it's important to quickly recap the most important reasons for managing your screentime here:
As a new parent, you can probably guess that I'm becoming really mindful about how much time my son spends in front of a screen.
Of course, you also have a duty towards yourself to keep yourself healthy. Just working in front of a monitor without knowing what you're exposing yourself to is thus foolish if better options are available.
You may think: "everyone at my job is using a monitor all day long, so the problem can't be that bad, right?!"
Just because 'everyone is doing it' doesn't mean it's harmless. Let me give you an analogy:
The fact that everyone does something is thus not an argument to claim that an activity is harmless.
Hence, everyone using computer monitors unprotected not make it safe.
Working on a monitor is very different than walking around in the park or driving a car.
When you're using a monitor, the muscles around your eyes continually have to focus on an object that's very close to you.
Our ancestors never had this experience. Their eyes and the muscles around it played a very different role. When you're outside, your eyes alternate between looking far ahead, then inspecting an object close to you, then looking to your sides, and so forth.
With a monitor, however, you're potentially focused on 1 point in space for 2-12 hours per day.
So let's look at the solution:
My goal in this blog post is to give you the healthiest monitor setup in the world.
The best option for you and I would be to remove monitors from our lives.
You and I both know this isn't going to happen! I am a full time blogger, even I have days where I spent 12 hours in front of a computer screen.
And yet, computer work is not always gloom and doom. Working outside in the shade is one of the perfect ways in which to reduce your exposure to the wrong types of light:
The "office" that I sometimes use: perfect for getting a lot of work done while relaxing.
So working with monitors is not black and white - you can nudge yourself into the right direction.
And now you understand that computer monitors are potentially damaging to your health. Let's look at the properties the healthiest monitor in the world must possess:
In this section, I look at various factors that need to be taken into account for buying the healthiest computer monitor. These factors include screen technology, brightness settings, flicker, and blue light emissions.
"Matte" screens reduce glare. Glare can be a problem if lots of sunlight (or artificial light) hits your screen and reflects off the surface into your eyes.
The downside of matte is that color contrasts are not as pronounced. And even though you may use a high resolution, graphics will look less visually appealing on a matte monitor.
Glossy has the opposite benefits and downsides. With a glossy screen, you'll experience more glare but also better contrast and overall better graphics. Some glossy screens are treated with anti-reflective compounds to reduce glare anyway.
For many years, the market has offered mostly flat monitors. In fact, any LCD or LED screen you bought before ~2015 was fully flat.
The problem? Flat screens aren't specifically aligned with your eyes. Your eye sockets are actually not directed straight ahead but anatomically project somewhat outward to your sides. Your eyes are thus not just made for looking in front of you, but also observing your sides (a.k.a. your peripheral vision).
Curved monitors use that eye anatomy perfectly. As a result, contrast improves and thereby readability. One study actually backs the claim that curved monitors do reduce eye fatigue (47).
Overall, I do think the benefits outweigh the downsides, if and only if you're located right in front of the curved screen. If you're not directly seated in front of the screen, but somewhat to the sides, the downsides outweigh the benefits.
So if you are using multiple monitors, it may be best to get two flat monitors instead of a curved monitor.
And while such certification programs are a great step in the right direction, they have their limits. The "TUV Rheinland gold standard" certification, for instance, only certifies for 1) blue light; 2) low flicker; 3) glare or reflection.
Curve, brightness, height adjustability, and resolution aren't taken into account.
Whilst certifications such as this are better than nothing, and do cover some essential points when looking for a healthy monitor, they shouldn't be relied upon as the ultimate recommendation as to whether it's the healthiest monitor available.
I found similar issues with health certifications when I researched my blog post about healthy mattresses,
Now that you understand what you're looking for in a healthy computer monitor, let's consider the best options on the market today.
Let's summarise. The perfect biohackers healthy monitor should:
The market currently offers thousands of different monitors. Fortunately, I've narrowed your choices down to a couple of main options. Below I post a budget monitor, premium version, and one for working outside.
This BenQ monitor has several advantages, such as:
The monitor is LED-based. For $175, you cannot go wrong with this option.
Similar to the curved monitor above, this monitor has zero flicker technology, low blue light filtration options and a high resolution.
It is a high gloss monitor, so if you are using it in an area that is prone to glare, that is something to keep in mind.
It is also available in a 27 inch display.
If working outside on a laptop isn't an option,
What if you want to buy a big screen anyway? In that case, you do well buying a high-quality version.
This monitor is priced at $650 and can really be considered the top of the bill. With a low-flicker function and great contrast and brightness, plus blue light reduction, it's both easy on the eyes as well as great for cognitive performance.
The BenQ monitor automatically adjusts screen brightness based on ambient lighting (so as the room get's darker, the screen will lower the brightness levels - just as modern smart phones do).
And it's in built low blue light, zero flicker and curved design, this is the stand out when it comes to large 'healthy monitors'.
Get the BenQ monitor HERE.
Again, this monitor is rather large (with sizes ranging from 28" to 35") so it's best suited for people who sit further away from the screen. If possible, you don't want the monitor to be the predominant source that supplies light to your eyes and skin in the room due to its unnatural light spectrum output.
What if you could work outside all day long, without being bothered by the brightness or glare of the sun? Well, guess what? There are laptops specifically produced for working outdoors and are protected from dust and mechanical danger such as falling off a table or water damage.
These laptops are called "toughbook" or "rugged" notebooks.
I know this may seem a little out of place for an article on healthy monitors. But we know that getting outside in natural full spectrum sunlight is the best way to mitigate the dangers of monitor use, hence why I includes this 'out of the box' recommendation (plus it's something that I am personally considering as many sunny days I wish I could do my work outside. After a few minutes of trying to see the screen I give up and return indoors!)
These outdoor laptops allow for much greater brightness than regular laptops and also have an anti-glare coating that prevents sunlight from inhibiting your view.
The huge benefit of these laptops is that you can use them outdoors, which isn't possible with regular screens. You'll avoid all the fluorescent and LED light exposure using a rugged laptop outdoors as well.
Note - If you're buying a rugged laptop, make sure to buy an additional WiFi adapter that can be connected with a USB cable. Doing so moves the WiFi device farther away from your body, dramatically lowering your exposure to non-native EMF.
The WiFi adapter listed above has a 5-feet cable and can be placed much farther away than the WiFi in your laptop.
Now, these outdoor laptops are a great choice because they can withstand:
The downside of rugged laptops or "toughbooks" is that:
Get an outdoor rugged laptop HERE.
EyeSafe is a company dedicated to filtering our harmful high energy blue light from our computers and devices.
Though they are relatively new, they are working on technology that uses both hardware adjustments and screen filtration to protect users eyes.
They are also developing a rating they have termed 'Retina Protection Factor' or RPF®.
This RPF score will rate screens based on their ability to block harmful high energy visible light and UV light.
A RPF score of 30 means 99% of UV light is blocked and 30% of HEV light is blocked. The higher the value, the more digital blue light energy is blocked.
At the time of writing, they only have two products on the market.
The first is their EyeSafe Screen Protection filter called 'VisionGuard'. This is for use on mobile phones and tablets.
The second is their EyeSafe displays that feature on some high end Dell computers. In fact some of these displays are extremely high end and very safe from an eye health point of view.
Not only do they incorporate the EyeSafe technology, some of the high end Dell screens are also built using OLED technology, with high resolutions and low flicker. But these machines are ultra premium computers - costing over $4000 (and up to $8000 in some models).
It is exciting to see that companies are becoming aware of the dangers of blue light eye damage from monitor use.
I do hope that EyeSafe either bring out their own monitor line or partner with a monitor company such as LG or BenQ to sell EyeSafe approved monitors.
Until then, if you're in the market for a high end laptop, check out the EyeSafe approved Dell range!
Whether you need a huge 30-inch+ monitor or the aforementioned 24-inch depends on your circumstances (and budget!)
If you're using a 24-inch monitor and looking at the screen from a large distance, while barely being able to read the symbols of the screen, a bigger model is needed.
If your eyes are only 15-20 inches removed from the screen, however, a 30-inch screen may be over the top. Sitting close to a big screen has two main disadvantages:
The best monitor is thus large enough so that you can read and type well, but not bigger than that.
The ulitmate biohacker option would be to go with the outdoor laptop option and do your work outside in the sun!
But this is not practical for many.
It is a shame that EyeSafe don't have any dedicated monitors (with the Dell high end range being the only way to get an EyeSafe display). Still, it is promising that a company is out there and aware of these issues.
Maybe in the not to distant future we will see an EyeSafe monitor that will be the ultimate monitor for us biohackers!
Until then, it may be a wise move to get one of the sub $200 monitors and run a tool like Iris (covered below) and or use your day time computer glasses while we wait (and save some money) for a dedicated EyeSafe monitor!
I personally plan on going down this route.
You may not want to buy a new monitor but may still want to reduce your eye damage when using screens for longer periods of time. In that case, I've got several tips to deal with the problem.
Alternatively, you may already have bought a flicker "free" monitor that emits less blue light. Even in that case, you'll benefit from some of the options below because they allow you to further fine-tune your monitor.
Let's begin with the simplest solutions:
A few years ago, several apps have emerged to make your monitor use healthier. The first app is called "f.lux", which is 100% free and helps you reduce the amount of blue light both during the day and at nighttime.
Most monitors are automatically configured at a color temperature of 5500 or 6500 Kelvin (K) - which translates to lots of blue light and every little red light being emitted.
The solution is to reduce that color temperature to 2700 K at the maximum during the daytime, and preferably 0 K at nighttime. Reducing the color temperature makes using a computer screen much healthier.
Secondly, there's "Iris" app.
Iris goes one step further than f.lux and also reduces the intensity of the flicker. Recall that removing flicker is much easier on your brain and eyes, and helps you work much longer and at a much higher level of performance at a monitor.
One recommendation I would make to absolutely everyone is to invest $15 into Iris for every monitor you use in your home or office.
The reason is simple: even the most perfect monitor on the market today doesn't fully remove flicker or blue light. Less flicker is better, and hence, Iris app is the perfect solution to that problem.
Iris also allows you to selectively reduce your blue light exposure to a far greater extent than the "low blue light" technology of recent computer monitors can.
So Iris is really a no-brainer. You'll probably re-earn those 15 bucks within a week due to higher productivity. Even if you buy the $600 monitor I've listed above, I still recommend you use Iris app!
Sometimes you cannot change the settings of your computer. If you're at work, for instance, the IT department may have blocked the option to install third-party programs such as Iris.
In that case, I highly recommend buying a blue light screen protector to reduce your exposure. Even though these screen protectors are imperfect, they frequently still remove 20-40% of blue light. A 5,500 K screen will then move closer to 3,000 K or 3,500 K - your brain and eyes will thank you in a few years!
To reduce your risk even further, get some computer glasses. In that case, all of the blue light overexposure is probably gone. The computer glasses also protect you from excess blue light from fluorescent light bulbs and LEDs.
Additionally, blue light screen protectors can be bought HERE. Make sure to properly measure the diameter of your monitor first before buying one - a 15-inch blue light screen protector won't fit on a 17-inch screen.
Did you buy a monitor with a glossy screen and is the glare killing you? No worries: in that case, you can still buy an anti-glare screen protector.
Again, keep in mind that such a protector also reduces the brightness and contrast on the screen -- so there's a tradeoff to be made!
Whatever you do, don't work on a computer with high levels of glare. Reading with glare is much more difficult on your eyes and brain, leading to a downturn in cognitive performance.
Working outside with your laptop, but don't have a "toughbook" or "rugged laptop"? Even in that case, there's a great solution: buy a computer hood.
A computer hood protects both the upper part and the sides of your screen from sunlight. As a result, your screen becomes much better visible even in bright sunlight.
The downsides of these computer hood is that they might not be sturdy enough to withstand strong wind. And yet, if you're sitting in a location that doesn't get hit by a strong wind, a computer hood will be a perfect solution.
Just in case - for any reason - you cannot change the height of your monitor to fit your posture, changing the desk might be the solution.
In general, a desk that allows you to alternate between sitting and standing is the best solution.
Walking desks are much more expensive and allow you to walk while working throughout the day -- but are experienced as reducing cognitive performance by some.
By now lots of evidence exists that sitting for prolonged periods of times is horrible to your overall health (42; 43; 44; 45; 46). Sitting for too long leads to health conditions such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as increased stress, exhaustion, premature aging, and more.
A simple SaunaSpace Photon Bulb, as displayed in the picture above, can give you an "eye insurance" - figuratively.
The reason is that red light therapy protects your eyes. Red light therapy can help balance the high levels of blue light exposure you get if you spend an entire day unprotected from blue light.
Let's look at some research:
While more research is certainly needed in this area, the current outcomes are very promising and hint that using red light therapy might improve your eye health.
How to implement this tool?
The MitoRed Light MitoMID with for $429 is also a great option, but requires more space and doesn't emit a wide spectrum of light as the Photon does.
Getting some bigger red light therapy panels for evening use to counterbalance the daytime blue light exposure in the office may also be a great strategy.
Even if you're in the office, getting more natural sunlight in is great. Keep in mind that windows block some of the ultraviolet light, so you're actually not getting the full sunlight spectrum exposure if you're indoors.
Ultraviolet B, which is necessary for vitamin D creation, does not even pass through the thinnest windows. And because windows are frequently 2 or 3 layers thick today, for insulation purposes, much of the ultraviolet A is also blocked.
(Ultraviolet A has mood-boosting effects and makes you feel great on a beach day).
Despite these issues, it's highly recommended that you work in a well-lit area with natural sunlight. By doing so, the percentage of light emitted by a monitor is minimized while a more natural light spectrum exposure massively increases.
Alternatively, use incandescent or halogen lighting as much as possible.
Always strike a balance between glare and letting sunlight into the room. Again, if the sunlight enters the room from behind you, you're going to experience lots of glare on your screen. The sides and front are usually much better for reducing glare--although the effects depend on the room you're in.
If you're biohacking your life, very small tweaks can make a huge difference over time.
For example, if you've got a delayed immunological response to eating eggs, you may be having lots of trouble getting your diet under control. Only by testing can you find out that those eggs you're eating are triggering inflammation one week after you consumed them--and cutting them out makes a world of difference in healing you from disease.
Using a monitor is the same: the effects of using a monitor that flickers and emits tons of blue light might not be noticeable within 5 or 10 minutes.
Heck, even after working with such a monitor for a couple of hours you may still feel "fine". And if you're in good general health, you may not notice anything at all for years. Nonetheless, changing your monitor can have huge effects on your health in the long-run.
Do what you have to do (and what your wallet allows!)
This is a post by Bart Wolbers. Bart finished degrees in Physical Therapy (B), Philosophy (BA and MA), Philosophy of Science and Technology (MS - Cum Laude), and Clinical Health Science (MS), and is currently the chief science writer at Alexfergus.com.
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