Mental And Physical Symptoms Of Too Much Screen Time
Social media addiction and overdosing on screen time wasn’t a problem just a few decades ago. But today, it’s estimated that kids spend anywhere between 8 and 18 hours a day on their devices, and during quarantine, screen time for both children and adults saw significant increases. As our digital-first society increasingly turns to screens for school, work and to connect with family, we all have to be aware of the symptoms of too much screen time, as well as the risks of ignoring the warning signs.
The reality? Screen time is the new smoking, and we’re living through the real-time experiment about just how dangerous it is for us. The best thing you can do is protect your eyes and health from blue light as research continues to evolve. Here are some signs and symptoms of too much screen time that can manifest in mental and physical ways.
1. Poor Sleep
Blue light exposure from our screens, particularly during nighttime hours, disrupts our sleep because it confuses our natural circadian rhythm. The sun, our natural source of blue light, regulates alertness during the day. But when we experience blue light exposure during non-daylight hours, our bodies suppress the sleep-regulating hormone called melatonin, and we miss out on quality REM sleep. In short, adults and children engaging in late-night screen time sessions, even for a short time, are confusing their bodies into lower melatonin production which makes it more difficult for us to fall asleep.
Additionally, keeping our bodies in this alert and awake state can tell it to release cortisol, a stress hormone, which can increase tension in the body. Meanwhile, the brain’s electrical activity is on overload from scrolling through our inboxes and social media accounts, and it becomes more challenging to bring the body and brain into a restful state of mind for sleep. And the effects snowball. Missing out on sleep, even only one hour per night, can lead to:
- Decreased cognitive function
- Mental fog
- Reduced attention span
- Memory problems (e.g., not being able to learn new information or convert short-term memory into long-term memory)
- Problematic or risky decision-making
- Lower energy levels
- Mood changes, such as stress, anxiety, irritability, and even depression
2. Short-Term Vision Impairment and Irritation
In the short-term, anyone who spends time on their screens should be concerned when their eyes burn, or become dry, red, or watery. You should also watch out for headaches, blurred vision and light sensitivity. Computer vision syndrome affects 75% of people who work on computers. People blink 66% less when they are staring at screens, which leads to these tell-tale symptoms of dryness, redness, eyestrain, blurred vision and so on.
3. Long-Term Vision Damage
There are an increasing number of studies that illustrate a clear association between screen time and myopia. While genetics have an undeniable influence on vision for children and adults, other indisputable factors point to screen time and less time outdoors as a cause for concern. In a landmark 2013 study, teachers in Taiwan required 80 minutes of outdoor recess. A year later, only 8% of children in their classes were diagnosed with myopia. Significantly, nearby schools that didn’t implement indoor time restrictions recorded 18% myopia diagnosis in their classes.
4. Poor Emotional Development and Social Skills
It’s common for parents to give their children screen time to occupy or entertain them. While a few minutes isn’t a big deal, it’s safe to say we’re all spending much more time on screens than that. For kids, this type of distraction reduces the amount of time they spend interacting with others, which means screen time is leading to a reduction in the social acumen of children. They are having a harder time interacting and socializing with peers and adults. The long-term effect is arrested social development.
Screen time in early childhood is also linked to emotional problems and family issues on top of social problems. By limiting their emotional and social competence, children miss out on crucial developmental skill-building:
- Survival skills: listening, ignoring distractions, and using positive self-talk
- Interpersonal skills: sharing, asking for permission, taking turns, joining activities
- Problem-solving skill: asking for help, accepting responsibility and consequences, offering ideas
- Conflict resolution skills: being able to deal with teasing, losing, accusations, and peer pressure.
5. Weight Gain and Diabetes
Screen time has long been named as one of the contributing factors to obesity in both children and adults. The obvious factor is a more sedentary lifestyle, but it’s also a result of poor sleep which can increase your appetite and junk food cravings. Too much screen time often goes hand in hand with a lot of sitting and remaining in a resting state, and being too sedentary is linked to a higher risk of diabetes. Once again, the effects of screen time can snowball. Being too sedentary can also lead to musculoskeletal issues, causing aches and pains that inhibit our daily health and happiness.
But it’s more than just an inactive lifestyle. More screen time, in most cases, means more exposure to ads and digital marketing material that promote unhealthy habits. Even though people may know better, continued exposure to these images and messages does affect the human psyche and can influence dietary habits and behaviors. Additionally, if that wasn’t enough, because weight gain is causally connected to at least 12 cancers, screen time is thought to be an indirect driver of cancer.
How to Manage Screen Time
Poor mood and grogginess, headaches, dry or watery eyes, and light sensitivity are clear physical symptoms of too much screen time. While quality screen protectors can help with the latter bunch, the only way to prevent blue light from disrupting your sleep and circadian rhythm (which can result in mood disorders, grogginess, obesity, diabetes and much more) is to avoid screen time in the evening and wear dark yellow blue light glasses when you do engage with screens at night.
As screen time goes unregulated, we may have trouble learning and committing short-term memory to long-term memory. We may experience mood swings, become irritable, have trouble concentrating, and even show signs of anxiety. Blurred vision and some initial weight gain can also develop. If these symptoms are ignored or not adequately dealt with, they can develop into much more serious conditions, such as obesity, nearsightedness or macular degeneration, mood disorders like depression, and even emotional and social arrested development in children.
Luckily, there are ways to combat these effects.
- Cut off screen time at least two hours before bed.
- Don’t allow screens in the bedroom at any time, especially at night.
- Be sure to move and get outside, and engage in physical activity throughout the day.
- Wear dark yellow glasses when using digital devices at night.
- Add screen protectors to all of your devices (Reticare has great science to back up their product. The code DRKARA will earn you 10% of your purchase).
Image: Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash