Young or old, we sure do love our screens, but the amount of time we are engrossed isn’t doing our health any favors. Find out why you should start scaling back today.
Whether playing games, scrolling social media on a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or computer, or binging a whole series on TV in one sitting, we cannot seem to get enough of our instant access to content or the intoxicating ability to be instantly connected with others around the world.
In fact, it is estimated that American adults now spend over 13 hours a day engaging with a screen of some kind since COVID began.
Kids between ages 8 and 18 are estimated to spend on average 7.5 hours in front of a screen every day, which amounts to a whopping 114 full days during a single year.
Zoning out in front of the TV or perusing the latest Instagram trends after a long day seem innocuous enough, but in actuality, our preferred mode of relaxation could be doing a number on our health in a number of ways without our even realizing it.
Blue light can hurt our eyes
As the pandemic has shuttered schools and offices around the world, kids and adults find themselves learning, working, and socializing from home - more often than not attached to a screen.
This means that we are now spending more time than ever cozying up within inches to displays that emit possibly damaging levels of blue light.
Blue light is a high energy, low wavelength light emitted by all digital devices that may damage our eyes when we are exposed for long periods of time, a trend that has eye doctors and employers concerned.
This is especially worrying for kids, since their still-developing eyes are able to absorb more of the blue light than adults.
Too much screen time can dampen our mood
Researchers have known for a while that when we live sedentary, or physically inactive, lifestyles, we set ourselves up for a higher risk of depression.
Sure enough, a 2017 study looked at the mental health status of people who spent more than 4 hours a day watching TV or using the computer, and confirmed just that.
Out of 3201 American adults who were studied, those who spent the most time - in this case over 6 hours a day - in front of a screen were significantly more likely to be depressed than those who spent less time.
Too much time in front of the screen can leave people feeling less energized, less confident about themselves, and less interested in trying new things.
Why is this the case? Excess screen time can interfere with healthy sleep patterns, and the more fatigued we are, the less capable we are of coping with everyday stresses.
A smartphone’s disruptive effect on our sleep
It is no secret that we spend an inordinate amount of time on our smartphones.
Around 64% of us own one. The problem? So many of us are glued to our phones right before bed and keep our phones on our nightstand while we sleep, habits that are linked with insomnia and poor sleep.
The blue light that our smartphones emit is actually shown to suppress our production of melatonin, a hormone our brain creates when we sense darkness which helps us regulate our sleep.
Also, when we engage with our phones before bed, we can become engrossed and overstimulated, making it much harder to relax and unwind in preparation for sleep.
One study showed this negative effect on sleep in action. Smartphone screen time among 653 participants were looked at over 30 days, and it was found that the more time spent on the phone before bed, the less sleep quality and quantity was experienced.
Screens’ effect on the heart, lungs, and risk for diabetes and obesity
One recent study analyzed the screen watching habits of subjects between the ages of 16 and 99 and saw that as the number of hours spent on a screen increased beyond 4 hours daily, the risk for hypertension, stroke, COPD, and diabetes increased as well.
Kids who watched more than 5 hours of TV a day had a higher risk of asthma and eczema.
Also, adolescents between ages 12 and 15 who spent more than 2 hours on a screen a day had higher blood pressure and cholesterol, and were more prone to obesity and overweight.
Some researchers believe there is a “couch potato” effect of living life in front of a screen. Sitting put prevents us from being physically active and keeps us snacking on calorically dense foods.
In fact, every additional hour we spend watching TV is thought to increase our odds of being overweight by 10%.
5 ways to scale back on your screen time
Making a few small, manageable changes to the way you and your family engage with the screens in your lives can go a long way in keeping you active and healthy.
Set screen limits. Use your phone’s screen limit feature to actually set time limits for how long you are able to spend on your screen. After a specified time period, your screen will simply shut off.
Delete time-consuming apps. You know those apps that suck you in and before you know it, an hour has gone by? Time to delete them. You will be amazed at how much time you will add to your day.
Listen to a podcast. Still feel the need to keep your phone close but want to keep it at bay? Get lost in a podcast. Today’s podcasts run the gamut in terms of content and inspiration.
Play a board game. Rekindle the fun of sitting and playing an actual board game or a game of cards with your friends and loved ones.
Keep the phone out of your bedroom. Many people rely on their phones as an alarm clock to wake them up each morning, but having the phone so close just amps up the temptation to keep checking in. Buy a regular old-school alarm clock and keep your phone charging overnight in another room.