Updated: Apr 1, 2020
Screens have become an inescapable part of modern life. Whether it’s out of necessity, a desire to connect with others, boredom or all of the above, it seems like as soon as we’re done looking at one screen, our eyes drift to another.
How spending hours in front of a screen is impacting your health.
How many times have you spent a long day at work in front of a computer screen, only to spend your lunch break using your smartphone to catch up with friends or scroll through social media? If there’s a new television show you’ve been binge watching, the hours spent staring at a screen can add up quickly.
You may be shocked to learn just how many hours you’re devoting to the screen every day. Adults typically spend about 11 hours every day in front of a screen – usually a combination of computers, mobile devices and televisions.
According to research by Nielson, teens aren’t that far behind their parents and spend about nine hours every day looking at screens. Children between the ages of eight and 12 put in up to six hours of screen time daily, which many experts believe could have an impact on their developing brains.
There’s no denying that the information age has changed our lifestyle dramatically and rapidly, making the world more connected than ever, but at what cost to our health?
Studies show that the amount of time teens spend on screens, particularly social media and video games, has led to an increase in feeligs of depressions, anxiety and loneliness.
Adults today consume five times the amount of information in a single day than they did 50 years ago. That doesn’t necessarily mean all that info is making us smarter. In fact, research suggests that all this focus on screens can make quite an impact on cognitive health – and different generations are feeling the effect in distinct ways.
For adults, this overconsumption of information has been shown to contribute to a type of mental sluggishness. That’s because there’s only so much a human brain can process at one time when we hit that limit, it becomes harder to think clearly or even make minor decisions – a condition experts have dubbed “information anxiety.”
The impact is especially prevalent in teens who’ve grown up being all but consumed by mobile devices, making them part of every aspect of life. Studies show that the amount of time teens spend on screens, particularly social media and video games, has led to an increase in feelings of depression, anxiety and loneliness.
When it comes to younger children, digital devices can change the way they learn. An alarming investigation by the National Institutes of Health showed that when very young children play with a tablet, they don’t transfer what they learn to the real world.
The effects of blue light on health
Tablets, computers, televisions and smartphones emit blue light. The human eye is not meant to spend hours and hours a day staring at screens. Historically, once the sun went down, so did our exposure to blue light. And research shows this increasing exposure is having an impact on more than just our eyes.
This potentially harmful light has been shown to have a similar effect on the body as caffeine by increasing alertness and decreasing drowsiness. Sending text messages or scrolling on social media before bed can make it much harder to fall asleep and leave you feeling groggy as well as mentally and physically sluggish.
Studies also show that people who spend about an hour a night reading an e-book produce 55 percent less melatonin than those who read print books. Melatonin is a crucial chemical that helps us fall asleep, but our brains produce less of it while we’re exposed to blue light.
All that screen time is also taking a physical toll on our eyes. Around 60 percent of people who work on computers every day experience a phenomenon known as computer vision syndrome, which includes symptoms like eye strain, blurred vision, headaches and neck and back pain.