You probably already know that spending too much time with your digital gadgets can have a negative impact on work productivity and also interfere with your real-life interactions. However, new research shows that those are not even the worst repercussions that come with excessive screen time.
Rather, it’s the mental and physical health hazards that are a bigger cause for concern. The most worrying part about these findings? It’s not just adults who are impacted – children and teenagers are also vulnerable to the detrimental effects of staring at a screen for prolonged periods of time.
We’re Inside Too Much
Being outside is linked to improved focus, an elevated mood, and a healthier body, so why are we spending so much time indoors? Could it be that screens have us in their grip?
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, we are inside a building or vehicle for 93% of our lives. The link between screen time and being outdoors is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem: If you’re inside, it makes sense that you’d reach for a device with a screen for work or entertainment, and of course, if you’re staring at a device you’re unlikely to be outside.
Screens Are Frying Our Brains
Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but sadly not too far from the truth.
Why is that? The short answer is that when our brain identifies something as a “reward,” we feel the positive effects of the naturally-occurring brain chemical, dopamine.
Novelty, such as a notification popping up on your phone (especially a novelty that is already linked to something positive like a social connection or progress in a game) registers as a reward to your brain. Screens are essentially a reward-factory for the brain: points on a video game? Dopamine. Friend request on Facebook? Dopamine.
And you know what pales in comparison to a dopamine rush from stimulation on a screen? Sustained attention on an activity or task that isn’t providing any immediate reward.
Looking at Screens All Day Can Hurt Your Eyes, Ears, Neck, Shoulders, Back, Wrists and Forearms
Too much screen time can hurt your body physically. It can lead to vision problems, substantial back and neck pain from bending to constantly look at a device, and hearing loss from wearing headphones with a device, just to name a few.
For example, looking down puts extra stress on your neck. This places your spine in an unnatural position that strains the muscles, nerves, and ligaments (otherwise known as “text neck”). When you spend a lot of time texting, typing, or looking things up on the internet, you may experience cramping or soreness throughout your wrists, fingers, or forearms. And staring at a screen for long periods of time can result in dry eyes, blurred or strained vision, and headaches.
Too Much Screen Time Interferes With Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
You’ve probably been told to put electronics away before bedtime for better sleep. The reason? Gadgets emit blue light. This interferes with your internal clock and confuses the body in terms of when to sleep and when to stay awake. Such light also decreases the amount of melatonin the body produces, making it harder to benefit from sleep-related hormones in the evening. (That’s not even counting the notifications from emails or texts that may wake you up and interrupt a sleep cycle!)
It Can Lead to Weight Gain And Increase Your Risk of Diabetes And Heart Disease
On that same note, one study of 177,000 students found that insufficient sleep was not only associated with increased screen time, but it also led to weight gain. It’s a cycle. Spending a great deal of time in front of a screen, no matter the type, promotes sitting. When you’re constantly sitting and distracted by a device, it’s easy to mindlessly eat or fail to make healthy food and drink choices.
Heart health is impacted by the inactivity related to screen time too. This includes leading to higher risk of conditions like diabetes or symptoms such as increased blood pressure or cholesterol and dangerous blood-sugar levels. Some researchers even claim that watching too much television impacts how long you live.
So while I understand that screens of all types are a necessity nowadays, we absolutely must attempt to limit ourselves when it comes to time spent on them! Set boundaries and stick to them. Get outside. More more! Your health and fitness goals can only benefit!