January 6, 2020 | Abby Caviness
If you are anything like most people in the world, you have a varying degree of attachment to your phone, computer, or TV. Between work and leisure, Americans spend an alarming portion of their day staring at a screen—and at what cost? There are several ways excessive screen time can affect individuals, some of which you may not have considered. To help you gauge the effects and perhaps inspire you to change your habits, USHEALTH Group® is answering some common questions about screen time and how it may affect you.
Does Screen Time Affect Health?
According to WebMD, excessive screen time can affect your health in a variety of ways. While some of these ways are directly related to staring at a screen, there are other effects that come from just using your devices excessively. Some of these effects include:1
Text Neck Syndrome
If you spend too much time looking down at your phone—texting or scrolling through your social media—you can strain the muscles in your neck and cause tightness, nerve pain, or spasms. To combat this, take a break every 20 minutes to stretch and return your neck to its normal position for a while. It also helps to hold your phone up higher when you text and avoid hunching forward.
Nighttime Scrolling Impedes Sleep
Too much time on your phone before you go to sleep can disrupt your sleep cycle, which is linked to diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and other issues. In addition, the blue light your phone gives off can be especially disruptive. For better rest, keep your bedroom dark and increase your body’s exposure to natural light during the day.
The blue light emitted from your devices has shorter wavelengths, which tire your eyes quickly and can cause pain. The light can also damage your cornea and harm your vision in the long run. If you notice these issues arising, you may want to limit your time in front of a screen or take frequent breaks to rest your eyes.
Albeit an indirect effect of excessive screen time, distracted driving can undoubtedly affect your health if an accident occurs. If you often feel the urge to text while driving, it may indicate an addiction that needs correcting—for your sake and the sake of others.
Trigger thumb occurs when your thumb gets stuck in a bent position—like when you are texting with your thumbs—or pops painfully when you try to straighten it. This is due to the sheath around our thumb’s tendon thickening and not allowing the tendon to slide freely. The simple act of limiting your cellphone use can treat this issue or sooth it.
It is not clear that cellphone use causes thumb arthritis, but it can worsen symptoms. Thumb arthritis culminates in pain and tenderness at the base of the thumb. Pinching and gripping hand postures worsen this condition, so relaxing your hand from these positions will help soothe symptoms.
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
This syndrome occurs when you spend long periods of time with your elbows bent and resting on a hard surface. The position of your elbows can cause numbness and tingling in your ring and small fingers and soreness on the inside of your elbow or forearm. Be sure the take breaks, moving and stretching your arms in different directions to loosen them up and avoid this issue.
How Many Hours of Screen Time is Healthy for Adults?
The ideal answer here is zero. If we all spent less time on our phones and computers, we would all be better for it. However, that is a lofty goal given most individuals’ careers require the use of screened devices. Instead, to determine a healthy amount of screen time, experts suggest measuring the quality of the exposure rather than the quantity.2
For example, if an individual spends their whole day researching online for a cure to a medical mystery, their screen time is warranted and deemed healthy. Unhealthy screen time would be any excessive screen time that takes away from the present moment or inhibits an individual to complete necessary tasks. If you find yourself skipping out on time with family and friends to instead scroll through your phone, you are participating in unhealthy screen time.2
Your Eyes Still Need Rest
Nevertheless, no matter how much screen time you have in a day, it is important to take frequent breaks to rest your eyes, stand up, and stretch. You can also replace your leisurely screen time with a hobby that does not require a screen. This way, you will ensure you are not becoming addicted to your phone and are instead enriching your quality of life.
What is the Average Person’s Screen Time Per Day?
According to the market-research group Nielsen, the average adult spends more than 11 hours per day interacting with media.3 Meaning people are looking at a computer, phone, or TV screen for about half of the day. However, there are limitations to this research, because most of the information gathered is from self-reports, which are “notoriously unreliable.”3 Regardless, individuals should evaluate their personal screen time to see if it is affecting their own productivity or well-being and consider cutting back accordingly.
How Do I Stop Playing on My Phone?
According to Larry Rosen, psychology professor and author of “The Distracted Mind,” most people check their phone every 15 minutes or less, regardless of whether they have a notification.4 Rosen says, “We’ve built up this layer of anxiety surrounding our use of technology, that if we don’t check in as often as we think we should, we’re missing out.” This habit can be hard to fight, but there are a few things you can do to work toward breaking it.
For example, you can:4
- Keep yourself on a schedule
- Turn off as many push notifications as possible
- Take distracting apps off your home screen
- Kick your device out of bed
- Use your smart speaker to live screen-free
- Try turning on your phone’s grayscale, making it less visually appealing
- Stay accountable by using screen time tracking apps
Incorporating a few of these disciplines can help you kick the habit of always needing to look at your phone. In return, the decreased use of your devices will improve your overall health, well-being, and productivity. Just imagine all the time you will have and all the things you can do with that time!
Using your phone or computer for productivity is all well and good until you begin to prefer staring at a screen over human interaction. Instead, give your eyes a rest and pick up a new hobby or spend more time with family and friends. As a result, you will improve your productivity and quality of life, while also avoiding the potential health pitfalls of too much screen time.
*This material is provided by USHEALTH Group® for informational/educational purposes only and should not replace medical/clinical advice or direction from your health care provider.
- DerSarkissian, Carol, “Ways Your Smartphone Can Wreck Your Health,” WebMD.com, last modified July 31, 2019, https://www.webmd.com/balance/ss/slideshow-smart-phone-health-problems
- Heid, Mark, “Experts Say ‘How Much’ Is the Wrong Way to Assess Screen Time,” Time.com, published May 23, 2019, https://time.com/5592329/experts-say-how-much-is-the-wrong-way-to-assess-screen-time/
- Brooks, Mike, “How Much Screen Time Is Too Much?” PsychologyToday.com, published December 26, 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/tech-happy-life/201812/how-much-screen-time-is-too-much
- D’Onfro, Jillian, “These simple steps will help you stop checking your phone so much,” CNBC.com, last modified January 10, 2018, https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/03/how-to-curb-you-smartphone-addiction-in-2018.html