You’re on your computer and phone all day for work. You check social media accounts and watch Youtube videos and rely on your devices for news alerts, weather, games and more. If you’re like the average American, you’re probably on your phone for just under three hours a day – every day! The consequences of spending this much time with a screen are real – insomnia, mood swings, and obesity being the most common.
Some studies have shown a link between screen time and metabolic syndrome, a condition that encompasses diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. Much of these issues aren’t directly related to the screen itself but result from living a sedentary lifestyle. The more time on your phone means less time interacting with friends and family, pursuing hobbies, getting enough exercise and caring for your mental health.
Spending hours on a device – whether for work or play – can also lead to other unpleasant symptoms like headaches, dry or irritated eyes, shortened attention span, neck or shoulder pain and irritability. Children are even more susceptible to these problems because their brains are still developing. Experts suspect that these symptoms could even affect social interactions and academic performance.
Just like us, kids love their mobile devices. But they’re spending increasing amounts of time on them in school and out, despite the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations to drastically limit screen time to protect their social, emotional and psychological health. Kids up to age 13 are recommended no more than 2 hours of total screen time per day.
The Dangers of Blue Light
One reason screens can negatively affect our health is due to the blue light emitted by most devices. Blue light penetrates all the way to your eyes’ retinas, causing changes that resemble macular degeneration. In addition to digital eye strain, these changes can even lead to permanent vision loss.
More than just potentially damaging to your eyes, blue light can also impact the body’s circadian rhythms, or the internal clock that tells you it’s time to wake up and time to go to sleep. Often called your sleep/wake cycle, your circadian rhythm alerts the brain at regular intervals over a 24-hour period. Research has shown that exposure to daylight keeps this rhythm in check. Too much light at the wrong time of day can trick your mind into thinking it’s not time for bed, keeping you from getting enough restful sleep. Have you ever tossed and turned after you’ve spent an hour or two on your phone? The blue light from the device is likely making it more difficult to fall asleep. What’s more, while light of any kind can suppress melatonin (the hormone responsible for regulation of your sleep cycles), blue light at night has been shown to be the most detrimental.
What Can You do?
There are simple swaps you can make if you’re looking to cut down on screen time – for yourself or your kids. First, set limits on your daily screen time. Several time tracking apps are available that will alert you when you’ve reached your limit for the day. You may be surprised how much time you actually spend on different apps and how quickly you reach your limit. Parents can set timers for kids’ devices to shut off when the limit is reached. Limit the amount of time available to be on your phone or device by turning off the TV, phone or tablet two hours before bedtime. You can also establish ‘no screen zones.’ These could be areas of the house (like bedrooms) or times (like family dinner) when screens aren’t allowed.
Pairing screen time use to completing certain tasks like homework, chores and physical activity is also a great way to help children develop a good balance. Lastly, unplugged and unstructured physical activities like walks, bike rides, and trips to the park help you get off your devices and spend more quality time together.