We’re all becoming more and more dependent on our screens for entertainment, work and social life, but is there a downside? NHS Consultant and founder of Vavista Life, Dr Sally Norton, asks if your viewing habits could be doing you more harm than good…
1. Struggling with sleep or weight problems?
Artificial light after dark, particularly with the blue wavelength transmitted by many screens, plays havoc with our natural circadian rhythms, affecting melatonin, which interferes with our sleep. So what? Well, aside from a poor night’s sleep there is some evidence that this disruption can contribute to diabetes, heart disease and even some forms of cancer. And next day tiredness makes us more likely to reach for high sugar, high fat, high calorie options contributing to weight gain.
2. Guilty of being a couch potato?
Pokémon Go aside, we don’t tend to view our screens on the run, so too much screen time is usually associated with too much sitting down. And we know this is bad for us in so many ways, increasing our risk of diabetes, heart disease and more. It has even been shown that the risk of early death is 60% greater for people who sit over eight hours per day, when compared to more active people.
3. Feeling lonely or blue?
Yes, our social life may benefit from easier organisation thanks to Facebook and our screens do enable us to keep in touch with distant friends and family, but more and more they’re taking the place of proper face-to-face contact. And how often do you see groups sat around a table on their phones instead of chatting? Maintaining a good network of relationships with real people off-screen is important for mental wellbeing – so don’t let your screen come between you and friends or colleagues.
4. Suffering from aches and pains?
How rich would you be if you had a pound for every time you told your teens to stop slouching on the sofa over their laptops? There’s increasing concern about musculoskeletal pain in our kids due to the poor posture caused by excess screen use. And office workers can suffer too, after a long shift at the desk. More than two hours a day at a screen increases the risk of neck, shoulder and back pain, so make sure you take regular breaks and always try to maintain a good posture.
5. Life looking a bit hazy?
And don’t forget your poor eyes. The American Optometrists Association has even given a name to the increased complaints of dry eyes, headaches, and blurred vision caused by excess screen use – ‘computer vision syndrome’. Again, regular breaks are what you need, and try not to spend too long looking closely at your screen.
6. Struggling to function properly?
On top of the headaches that can be provoked by excess time at the screen, some studies of computer gaming-addicted teenagers have even shown shrinkage of parts of the brain – the grey matter important for higher functions such as processing, prioritising and planning, as well as showing compassion and developing relationships.
7. Can’t switch off?
It’s not just some teenagers who are starting to show addictive behaviour to their computers, akin to drug and other substance abuse. More and more adults are struggling to cope without regular screen contact; some reportedly checking into their emails over 100 times a day. Over-engaging with your social media or other online resources has also been linked to depression and relationship problems – whether cause or consequence. It’s so much of a problem for some people that they are checking into tech-free retreats in an effort to break the compulsion.
There’s no denying the fact that screens are now part of our lives and provide a heap of benefits. But if you’re suffering from any of the problems highlighted, your screens could be to blame. If so, try to limit the time you spend on them, avoiding evening use where possible and adjusting brightness and positioning to reduce strain. Don’t let screens come between you and friends, family or colleagues and plan screen breaks and screen-free zones (especially in the bedroom). Be screen-wise and switch-off whenever you can – life is healthier and happier off-line!
The Vavista Life website is an online health hub offering medically backed health advice, without the stuffy science! Sign up for their regular columns and articles on everything related to you and your health, wellbeing and weight from their doctor-led team of dietitians, physios and wellness experts.