It’s no overstatement to say that in our modern world, screens surround us. Our phones, tablets, laptops, watches and televisions make our lives easier by providing infinite possible functions – work, entertainment, shopping, socialising, organisation, direction finding, learning, fitness tracking, news and more.
However, there is lots of evidence that suggests our love of screen time is affecting our health, in a host of different ways:
- Brain function – too much screen time has been shown to damage the brain in several ways. Multiple studies have shown that too much internet use or online gaming causes shrinkage in parts of the brain that govern empathy, planning, prioritising, organisation and impulse control.
- Eye strain – too much exposure to the blue light emitted by digital devices can cause eye strain, headaches, itchy eyes and blurred vision, as well as affecting your sleep patterns.
- Poor posture – slouching over digital devices can damage muscles nerves, tendons, ligaments and spinal disks.
- Lack of sleep – using screens before bed affects your ability to fall asleep in several ways. Firstly, the cognitive stimulation of responding to emails or messages, watching videos, etc., increases your brain’s activity and prevents it from settling into a restful state. Secondly, the light emitted from screens impairs your brain’s production of melatonin, the chemical needed to regulate your sleep cycle. Furthermore, unnatural sources of light can trick your brain’s natural ability to know when it’s time to sleep.
- Weight gain – studies have show that a combination of excessive screen time and low physical activity (let’s face it, for many people the more screen time you have, the less physical activity you are doing), increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and bone and joint problems.
- Depression – multiple research studies have indicated a strong link between heavy internet use and depression.
How to reduce your screen time
We’re not proposing a phone ban, but a little bit of digital detoxing can bring huge benefits to your health. Try these tips to reduce the amount of screen time you have each day.
- Don’t eat in front of a screen – whether we’re eating in front of the TV, catching up on the news or scrolling through Instagram, many of us eat our meals in the glow of a screen. Try listening to music or a podcast, sitting around a table with family or friends or even sitting in the garden and enjoying being outside. This also helps with mindful eating. Studies have shown that slowing down, being thoughtful and aware of what you are eating and enjoying your food can reduce overeating and obesity.
- Resist checking your work emails outside of work time – this is harder to do when working at home but relentlessly checking your inbox during evenings and weekends not only increases your screen time but can increase your stress levels.
- Try banning screens from the bedroom – you may love catching up on your favourite boxset in bed or scrolling through TikTok before you go to sleep, but this habit is playing havoc with your sleep cycle. Try reading a book or listening to a podcast before you drift off. This is relevant to when you wake up, too – many of us reach for our phones first thing in the morning – but it is far more beneficial to wake up with a shower, coffee or exercise.
- Swap online conversations for real life ones. The internet is a great way to catch up with friends and family when they live far away, or we don’t have the time to see them in person. But make it a priority to schedule coffee with friends, or phone your loved ones in a spare moment, such as on your walk home from work or at lunchtime. This counts for when you’re at work too – schedule a face-to-face meeting instead of sending an office memo.
- Be aware of how often you open up your smartphone simply because you are bored – and swap it for another hobby such as reading, listening to music or an audiobook, walking or cr