Translators spend several hours a day sitting in front of computers, and bent over dictionaries, so there are several risk factors involved in our work which may cause incorrect posture, neck pain, headaches, tendonitis, neuritis, eye strain, disturbances of the sleep cycle, and many more. Having worked as a translator for 15 years now, I have experienced firsthand some of these issues, my most severe one being an ulnar nerve entrapment on my left elbow that ended up in a recent surgery and a month of not working (ouch!).
So, for the past five years, I have been researching ways that would help me, a translator (or anyone working several hours in front of a computer, or with a keyboard, for that matter), to avoid various health risks, and in this article I will be showing you some of the things I have discovered to care for our «tools of the trade» so to speak, our hands, eyes, minds and bodies in general. Hopefully, some of these things will prove useful to you too!
This article turned out to be a long one, so I have divided it in smaller parts to make for easier reading. In this first part, I will be discussing useful software that helps specifically with sleep cycle disturbances, and eye strain, caused by electronics screens.
According to various studies in the last two decades, it appears that the human sleep cycle can be negatively affected by the blue light emitted by the various electronic devices, like our computer screens, laptops, iPads, smartphones, etc. Now, to be fair, according to scientists it appears that all relatively strong night-time light seems to be causing problems to our circadian rhythms, the body’s internal clock telling us when to sleep and when to wake. For example, Duffy J. F. & Czeisler C. A.,  after having reviewed various studies conducted in the span of 25 years, have concluded that «these studies have revealed, how the timing, intensity, duration, and wavelength of light affect the human biological clock.» Furthermore, they mention that the human circadian system has been found to be sensitive to even dim light, albeit if exposed to it for several hours. In 2012, the American Medical Association’s Council on Science and Public Health made a recommendation, in which it «Recognizes that exposure to excessive light at night, including extended use of various electronic media, can disrupt sleep or exacerbate sleep disorders, especially in children and adolescents. This effect can be minimized by using dim red lighting in the nighttime bedroom environment.» Moreover, further studies have shown that the blue wavelengths in particular seem to be causing the most harm to our sleep cycles. According to Mariana G Figueiro et al, «Exposures to red and to blue light resulted in increased beta and reduced alpha power relative to preceding dark conditions. Exposures to high, but not low, levels of red and of blue light significantly increased heart rate relative to the dark condition. Performance and sleepiness ratings were not strongly affected by the lighting conditions. Only the higher level of blue light resulted in a reduction in melatonin levels relative to the other lighting conditions.«
There are, of course, several other reasons why a sleep cycle can be disturbed, like caffeine consumption, or stress-related cortisol levels, but several hours in front of a computer screen was what concerned me most at the time, and led me to discovering the following two pieces of software.
According to the developers, F.lux is a software that «makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.» You can download it from their website for a desktop computer, Android smartphone, tablet, or iPhone, and with a few settings adjust it to make the screen on your computer take the same color as the light in your environment, be it the sunlight or the lamp on your desk. F.lux takes into consideration your location, so it can automatically adjust the light when the sun sets, without any effort from you. I have been using it for a year now, and I must (unscientifically) say it has helped both my sleep cycle and certainly my eyes, since the screen intensity can be adjusted as well, making it easier for me to be in front of it for several hours in the night. The cool thing about this software is that you can make the settings once, and then you just let it do its thing without intervening. Plus, if you need to do any color-sensitive work, or see a movie, where the original colors are important and necessary, you can simply turn it off, and you’re good to go!
When I was writing this piece about F.lux, the time was 10:15 pm, and this is what it looked like with my settings for the night:
My screen at night has a slightly more orange hue, barely noticeable, and to be honest, my eyes hurt less and do not sting, ever, even after several hours of typing or researching online. Plus, I also use it on my television (when connected to my laptop for movie viewing, etc), and it has the same effect. So, in my opinion, this is a very useful tool for us translators, especially those who are night owls and like to work nights.
Twilight is similar to F.lux, but is only available for Android phones, according to their website.
According to the developers, «The Twilight app makes your device screen adapt to the time of the day. It filters the blue spectrum on your phone or tablet after sunset and protects your eyes with a soft and pleasant red filter. The filter intensity is smoothly adjusted to the sun cycle based on your local sunset and sunrise times.«
I have been using Twilight for about a year now on my tablet, and I find that it is very convenient, although it does have some drawbacks like not allowing some other apps to function properly (they work fine though, if you turn Twilight off). So, though it is a nice app overall, and I am mentioning it here for variety (and because it might work perfectly on your device), I am a F.lux girl at heart and will probably soon replace Twilight with it, so… there you go.
I hope you have found this information helpful! Stay tuned to the blog for more articles on this subject, soon.
If you want to check out more about how to prevent specifically eyestrain from the computer screen, head over to LifeHacker and read this article here, which contains some useful information as well: How Do I Prevent Eyestrain at My Computer?
Further articles to read:
 Mariana G Figueiro, Andrew Bierman, Barbara Plitnick and Mark S Rea, «Preliminary evidence that both blue and red light can induce alertness at night,» BMC Neuroscience 2009, vol. 10, art. 105, DOI: 10.1186/1471-2202-10-105 © Figueiro et al; article found here.
Popie Matsouka is currently the Senior Project Manager and Lead Medical Translator and Editor of Technografia. She also holds the position of Quality Assurance Specialist, having specialized in translation and localization QA software technology. She is the resident tech/IT expert, and after having worked as a localization tools trainer, she recently also became a beta tester for SDL Trados Studio. Her education includes being an Apple trained Support Professional, plus a PC/MAC and LAN technician, apart from being a CAT tools expert. She also volunteers for the Red Cross, and is a firm believer that if we all work together we can make a great difference in this world, combining our professional and our personal strengths.