Does Too Much Screen Time Affect Your Health?

Being a fully-functioning human in the 21st century means you probably get your fair share of screen time. From Zoom meetings for work to online food orders, technology plays a role in most of our daily lives. But while running our lives through LED-monitors may be more efficient, is it taking a toll on our health?

The short answer — yes, it is.

Studies show that too much screen time can lead to health issues like weight gain, eyestrain, mental health problems, headaches and insomnia — especially in children and young adults. [1]

How Screen Time Affects Your Health

Excessive screen time can lead to behavioral issues and physical health problems, such as:

Eyestrain

While there aren’t any studies that link screen usage to permanent vision damage, dry eyes and eyestrain aren’t uncommon if you work on a computer all day. Take regular breaks to let your eyes re-moisten and consider changing your device’s position if tired eyes cause you headaches or nausea. [2]

Weight Gain

Ever been surprised how much time has passed after binge-watching your favorite TV show? You’re not alone. Screen time is often associated with sedentary behavior, which can result in unwanted weight gain, especially when it replaces physical activity.[3]

Woman suffering from sleep loss

Sleep Loss

Many of us read the news or browse social media to wind down at the end of the day. However, exposure to blue light from back-lit smart devices can mess with your internal sleep-wake cycle making it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Researchers have long linked sleep deprivation to increased risk for depression, diabetes and cardiovascular problems. [4]

Mental Health Problems

There is a growing concern over the relationship between social media, technology addiction and mental well-being. In fact, children with consistently high amounts of daily screen time are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety or depression and show signs of lower psychological well-being. Similarly, “doomscrolling” (defined as continuously reading bad news) can cause negative thinking, exasperate existing mental health problems and make it harder to focus. [5]

How to Reduce Screen Time

Safe smart-device usage is all about forming healthy habits. To make better decisions about where to cut back, try the tips below:

Start with Ergonomics

While it won’t decrease the time you spend online, you can protect your eyes from strain and keep your posture in check with an ergonomically sound work-from-home setup. Ensure the room you’re in has adequate lighting and that there isn’t a glare on your screen. Research shows you should sit about an arm’s length from your screen and position yourself (or the computer) so that you’re gazing just slightly downward. [6]

Ergonomic desks reduce affects of screen time

Use Monitoring Apps

You may find it helpful to track the amount of time you spend on your phone via your weekly screen time report, but it’s even easier to use screen time monitoring apps — something most modern devices have built-in. Screen time monitoring apps can impose daily time limits on your daily screen time. Simply set a daily time limit, and your device will let you know when it’s time to put it down for the day. You can even limit troublesome app categories like mobile gaming.

Use Parental Controls

If you’re a parent concerned about screen time’s harmful effects on children, consider using the built-in parental control apps on your kid’s devices. From MacBooks to PlayStations, most modern devices come with built-in parental control tools that allow you to place restrictions on daily usage. You can also download separate usage-control apps or block certain times of the day utilizing the advanced features on some WiFi routers.

Reduce Blue Light Exposure

To improve your sleep quality, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends limiting screen time to one to two hours before bed and using night mode in the evening.

A good night’s sleep will make you happier, more productive and less prone to illness. It can even improve your workout performance. So, turn off the TV and grab a good paperback before you hit the hay to improve your chances of getting some much-needed shut-eye. [7][8]

Women reading instead of watching TV

Keep Your Device Out of Reach

The more quickly you can access a device, the more tempted you’ll be to use it. To be more present, make a no-phones-at-dinner rule and consider leaving your smartphone in a different room while you work. These small changes will help you be more productive, focused and mindful throughout your day.

Practice Safe Scrolling

The COVID_19 pandemic has caused screen time numbers to skyrocket, as many people are spending more time at home. While reaching for your phone after spending hours indoors can be tempting, consider using your time indoors to hone safer social media and browsing habits.

Unfollow or mute social connections that increase negative feelings, limit the amount of time you spend reading negative news articles and trade mindless scrolling for more productive activities, like exercise and meditation. In short, choose how you spend your time online with your mental health in mind. [9]

Sources:

[1] www.psychologytoday.com
[2] https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/
[3] www.hsph.harvard.edu/
[4] www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side
[5] www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/
[6] https://uhs.umich.edu/computerergonomics
[7] www.aao.org/newsroom/
[8] https://www.sclhealth.org
[9] https://health.clevelandclinic.org/

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written by

James Gardikas

James Gardikas

Contributing Writer

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