Unless you live off the grid, screen time is likely a part of your everyday existence. At this point, you may spend hours in front of your phone, tablet, computer, and television screens. You were probably already increasing your use of digital technology before the pandemic.
Those screens provided a lifeline to the rest of the world when you were confined to your home. They kept you connected to family, friends, work, and streaming entertainment. But just like a life-saving medication, screens aren’t without potential side effects.
It is unlikely that you can eliminate screen time from your daily routine. You can, however, take steps to reduce the adverse effects it may have on your health. Start by knowing what those effects may be by watching for these four signs.
1. The Eyes Have Had It
Eye strain is a common effect of too much screen time. That doesn’t mean you might only reach for those lubricating, red-dimming eye drops. You might also find yourself searching for effective migraine treatment as well.
Headaches, redness, dry eyes, and blurred vision are all signs that your eyes have had with screen time. The strain can trigger migraine headaches when your eyes are constantly trying to focus and refocus on the screen. You also don’t blink as often as expected, reducing the water, oil, and mucus that keeps your eyes smooth and moist.
Keep your screen at arm’s length, about 25 inches away from your eyes, to reduce eye strain. At 20-minute intervals, look 20 feet away from the screen for 20 seconds. Try screen filters and eyeglasses, and make sure your screen isn’t the brightest light in the room.
If you’re a contact wearer, you might try wearing your glasses instead when working in front of the screen for more extended periods. Placing a humidifier nearby can help keep the air and your eyes moist. And don’t forget to schedule regular eye exams to help keep those peepers perking along.
2. It Has Become a Pain in the Neck
Neck pain, stiffness, even spasms are all signs that you’ve been hunched over your screen for too long. Often referred to as “text neck” or “tech neck,” these symptoms are caused by long periods of poor posture. Stop staring at your screen and look up to help reduce pain in your neck, shoulders, and upper back.
Your head in a normal position puts 10 to 12 pounds of pressure on your neck. Move your head forward a single inch, and that force increases six times. Imagine 60 pounds resting on the 20 muscles and seven bones in your cervical spine.
You can relieve the symptoms of text neck by putting your neck back where it belongs. Relieve that pressure by moving screens up to eye level, so your neck is in a more upright position. Texting in that position may appear odd to onlookers, but your neck will thank you.
It’s never a good idea to remain in a single position for long periods, so stretch periodically instead. Pull your head upright, roll it gently around, and rotate your shoulders. Adding this gentle stretching to your screen routine may help get rid of that obnoxious pain in the neck.
3. You’re Losing Sleep Over It
You have probably heard about “circadian rhythm.” It’s that 24-hour cycle that affects your physical, mental, and emotional health, primarily driven by light and dark. Mess with the morning, and you mess with your regular cycle.
It’s the pervasive blue light inherent in digital screens that disrupts sleep by blocking the melatonin necessary for good sleep. During the day, blue light keeps you awake and alert. Too much before bedtime may make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Poor sleep has been tied to health issues, including diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, obesity, and Alzheimer’s. Although you know you should refrain from scrolling through your social media feeds at bedtime, it’s tough to resist. There’s nothing like a funny cat video at the end of a long, stressful day.
Suppose you can’t (or won’t) wear blue-blocking glasses or use blue-blocking screen filters. Remedies for the dark side of blue light include avoiding screen time a few hours before you hit the hay. Don’t forget to get plenty of bright light during the day to help keep you from losing sleep at night.
4. You’re Packing on the Pounds
You’ve probably been there. You sit down and start scrolling through your social media feeds. You realize you’ve been lost in them for an hour when you look up.
Screens and sedentary lifestyles go hand in hand. It’s tough to work on that spreadsheet while jogging and unacceptable to Zoom with co-workers during Pilates. But you know how many negative health issues unpack themselves when you pack on the pounds.
Fight back first by making sure you avoid screen-time snacking. Make sure you take breaks from the screen periodically to stand, walk, and stretch to get the blood pumping. Instead of reaching for the potato chips, stand up and go for the sky.
You burn a few more calories standing than sitting, so spend some time standing in front of your screen. Instead of streaming that movie in the evening, take a walk or pull a few weeds in the yard. An ounce of prevention may be a cure for that extra pound of fat.
Screen time is a necessary evil for most people. You can’t do your job, stay in touch, learn, or relax without it. Give your eyes, neck, circadian rhythm, and bathroom scales a break to reduce the associated health risks.
Know what the symptoms of screen time excess are and mitigate the causes as soon as you experience them. As with everything in life, a slight moderation will go a long way to preserving your health and well-being. Plus, it will give you time to stare at some other things you might be missing.