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Do you spend most of the day staring at a screen? You’re not alone. It’s believed that the average adult spends more of their waking hours staring at a screen than interacting with the real world. Our kids aren’t much better – in fact, many kids spend up to 6 hours per day staring at a screen.
All this screen time can have a negative impact on your health if you’re not careful. Here are just a few of the various health risks associated with too much screen time and what you can do to protect your health.
Contrary to what many of us were told when we were little, looking at a TV for long periods won’t give you square eyes – but it could lead to eye strain. Blue light from screens can damage the retina and is thought to increase the risk of macular degeneration in the later life. Eye strain from bright screens can also lead to dry eyes and headaches.
Eye strain is more likely to occur when staring at a bright screen in poor lighting, so make sure that the room is well-lit. If you wear glasses, you could also be susceptible to eye strain as a result of glare – although anti-glare glasses may be able to reduce this. Taking a regular break from screens can of course also help.
Back pain/neck pain
Too much screen time can also be terrible for our spine. Leaning forward over a computer for long periods could lead to chronic lower back pain, while staring down at a phone or tablet for long periods can lead to neck pain.
There may be ways to beat this such as positioning a computer monitor at eye level, encouraging you to sit up straight and look ahead rather than leaning forward. This isn’t as easy to achieve with a phone or tablet – you generally have to look down at these devices (as a result, not using them as often is the best way to beat neck pain).
Most of us are sedentary when using a device with a screen. If you spend a lot of time in front of a screen, this could mean a lot of time spent sitting down. All this physical inactivity could eventually cause you to gain weight if you’re consuming lots of calories and not burning them off.
Finding ways to be active while looking at a screen could prevent this. This could include doing a couple exercises while watching TV or trying some deskercises while at your computer. You could also start using more apps on your phone that encourage physical activity such as step-counters – this might encourage you to spend less time lazing around while on social media and more time being active.
Lack of sleep
Blue lights from screens have also been linked to poor sleep quality. This is particularly the case with those that use their phone or computer right before going to bed – the bright light can trick our brain into thinking it’s still day and can delay the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone).
Making an effort not to look at screens an hour before you go to bed could help you to get to sleep more easily. Instead, try other activities that don’t require you to constantly look at a screen such as reading, taking a relaxing bath or listening to music.
Anxiety and depression
Too much screen time has been linked to mental health problems. This could be partly to do with what you’re doing while looking at a screen – the likes of social media can often be big triggers for anxiety and depression because they give us a false impression of the world.
There are ways in which you can physically limit time spent on certain apps so that you’re not endlessly scrolling. There’s nothing wrong with spending a few minutes on Facebook, but you don’t want to be spending hours a day on there. Kids can be particularly prone to social media addiction as well as video game addiction – don’t be afraid to take steps if necessary to reduce screen time such as restricting time spent on devices or even temporarily locking the wi-fi during certain hours.
Is it time to reduce screen time?
Screens have become a big part of our lives and have become hard to get away from. Staring at a computer screen could even be vital to your job (while kids often rely on screens for studying). Consequently, you may not be able to reduce all screen time, however you think carefully about how much of your free time is spent in front of a screen. By adopting hobbies that don’t involve using a screen, you could help to reduce the risk of many of the health problems listed above.