The 20-20-20 rule I've heard is to stare at something 20 feet away, for 20 seconds, every 20 minutes to help reduce the strain of looking at things up close all day for those of us who need to look at things up-close for extended periods, like software developers.

From what I understand, it works by allowing the muscles the eye uses to relax. However, I don't follow why the same can't be accomplished by just closing the eyes.

Does it not let the muscles they eye use relax? If so, why not? It seems strange to think the eyes are still straining to focus on something they can't see, or worse if they were focused on the inside of the eyelid.

EDIT: As an addendum, when staring at something for extended periods, sometimes I've noticed my eyes can "un-focus". Is that state of non-focus also a way to relax the eyes?

  • Some parts of your query can be answered from the link. biology.stackexchange.com/questions/1118/…
    – CCR
    Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 10:56
  • Thank you. Unfortunate that it's just a guess and doesn't have any sources or studies on the topic though. Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 16:09
  • There's a link on the question page linked to by @ccr which links to biology.stackexchange.com/questions/968/…, which gives a more formal answer.
    – JMP
    Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 20:49
  • @JMP Well that does at least confirm that looking at things in the distance relaxes muscles in the eye (ciliary muscles), so that's appreciated. Though it does not cover either of the alternatives in the original question. Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 23:12

1 Answer 1


Yes you can just close the eyes to relax them. The cure for fatigue is rest. It's not just the intraocular muscles that need to be relaxed. Even the extraocular muscles need the rest. Moreover, it also helps to relax the face muscles and neck muscles. I've recovered from severe eye strain. I know. The 20-20-20 rule didn't work for me, since my strain was severe. However, the simple fact of getting periodic rest was proven beneficial (Ref1). Getting 8 hours of sleep every night and closing my eyes after 20 minutes of computer use, slowly cured my strain and proper sleep and nutrition is also studied and accepted by researchers (Ref2).

Ref1: "rest breaks for 30 seconds every 30 minutes of computer use, and 15-minute rest break (in the morning and the afternoon)...was associated with reduction in percentage of eye strain".
Ref2: "analysis revealed a significant relationship between the use of computer and asthenopia...Good sleep...were found to be strong predictors of decreasing the occurrence of asthenopia complaints."

  • 1
    Welcome to Medical Sciences! We work differently than most SE sites in that we have a strict policy that all answers should be backed up with reliable references so that the answer can be independently verified regardless of the reader's background. Anecdotal experiences are not a substitute. If you still have trouble with this, feel free to visit the help center or Medical Sciences Meta. Unreferenced claims can lead to answers being deleted.
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented May 18, 2021 at 15:09
  • Added references.
    – John David
    Commented May 18, 2021 at 16:21
  • 1
    Done. I tried searching for more references. For extraocular muscles, I only found a 1983 paper that was subjective. Other studies on extraocular muscles were on mice. One thing I see common among most papers, are the biases based on hearsay and lack of measurable results (since extraocular strain is tough to measure). However, from my struggle, I assure y'all that what I've written is true. I've had sharp stabbing pains behind my eyeballs (extraocular muscles) and all around the eyes. Only when I started getting proper sleep and periodic rest did I get relief.
    – John David
    Commented May 18, 2021 at 17:15
  • I never doubted what you wrote is true. It's just a requirement here that assertions of fact require supporting references. As for your personal experiences, those don't really answer the question. It's those links you provided that offer an answer, so quoting from those studies instead of focusing on your personal experiences would make a better answer.
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented May 18, 2021 at 20:54

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