The Busiest Muscles in Your Body Need a Break—Here’s How to Rest Your Eyes

Photo: Stocksy / Guille Faingold
We use our eyes every waking moment of the day. And now that we essentially live our lives virtually, we're spending a lot more time focusing on objects that are right in front of us. David Epley, MD, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, says that's not necessarily a bad thing. Your eye muscles are meant to work nonstop, but that doesn't mean your eyes don't get tired and need an occasional rest.

"We're seeing a big uptick in people that are having eye strain or dry eye symptoms because we're spending so much time on computers and on things up close to us," says Dr. Epley. Naturally, when you have sore muscles, your first though may be to try to stretch them. Dr. Epley says stretching won't help your eyes.

"The eyeball itself, and the muscles around the eye, which are called the extraocular muscles, they're not your typical muscle like you find in your bicep in your arm. They are a mixture of fast and slow twitch muscles, and they're that way so that they can function all the time and not get tired," he says. "If you go and you do a bunch of curls with your bicep after a while that muscles gonna fatigue, build up lactic acid, and then get sore. But our eye muscles are constantly being used throughout the day and they're designed that way."

Dr. Epley says there are tons of eye movement exercises purported to help relax your eyes. "You'll see out there all kinds of eye rolling or moving exercises, or pulling the eyes to the side or up or down," he says. "Those don't really seem to have much value in terms of helping your eyes out." He says exercises like this are used in cases when people have a hard time coordinating their eyes, and if anything they can induce fatigue.

"If you want to relax the [eye] muscles, you want to do something that that shifts their focus to a different distance," says Dr. Epley. When we're focusing on things close to us, he says "the muscles inside our eye and the ciliary body that pull against that lens to shift its focus, are doing a lot of prolonged sustained contraction. And they're designed for that and they can do that. But for some people, over time, that makes them tired."

The best way to rest your eyes, he says, is by following the 20-20-20 rule.

"Every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break, and you take that break by looking 20 feet away or more," he says. Look out the window for 20 seconds, or alternatively, just close your eyes and count to 20. "That will relax that accommodating muscle that is spending all its time focusing up close and give it a breather, and then you can come back into it again."

If you're worried about the impact blue light has on your eye health, Dr. Epley says the research is inconclusive. "There's a lot of debate over that, and I'm not sure that we have a good perfect answer," he says. "At this point, there's still some research that needs to be done there."

Between work, the news cycle, and video chats with loved ones, increased screen time is unavoidable right now. Don't beat yourself up about it, and follow Dr. Epley's reccomendations to ensure your eyes get some much needed rest.

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