How Screen Time Affects Your Health (And How to Fix It)

Tech enthusiasts spend a considerable amount of time in front of a screen. How can you stay away from all the incredible things technology has to offer? Whether you’re working or gaming, you could spend upwards of 12 hours per day looking at a screen.

But what is all that screen time doing to you?

Unfortunately, spending too much time on your devices does impact your health, but in most cases, there are easy fixes. Consider these effects of staring at a screen for hours a day and how to make each one better.

Eye Problems:

The glaring blue light of your average digital screen can cause significant eye strain if you’re not careful. According to an article from the eye care specialists at Iconeyecare.com, the blue light you see on your screens is a less harsh version of the blue light that comes from the sun.

“The majority of blue light that we’re exposed to comes from the sun, not digital screens,” says the article. “…When blue light hits your retinal, it causes the whole molecule to twist a tiny bit. That small twist seems to cause a chain reaction that damages the walls of the cells in the eye.”

The Fix: It takes a considerable amount of blue light exposure for this to occur, but if you experience eye strain from staring at your computer all day long, you may benefit from special lenses to protect your eyes or even corrective eye surgery.

You can also adjust the brightness of the lights in the room to minimize the glare from your screen. Lights that are too dark or too bright increase eye strain. Aim for soft white LED light that doesn’t cause your eyes to over-focus.

Screen Addiction:

In severe cases, too much time in front of a screen can cause a digital addiction. This can be extremely damaging to emotional and physical health because your attachment to the screen surpasses your need for relationships, work, nutrition, and physical exercise.

Just because you’re using a screen often doesn’t mean it’s an addiction, though, says Jessica Wong, technology and addiction specialist at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in the Minneapolis area.

“It takes a lot for technology use to meet the definition of dependence,” she told Rewire. “We call it addiction when it starts to impact day-to-day function, relationships with children, spouses, children and friends. …The signs of digital addiction mimic the signs you see in someone who’s an alcoholic.”

Addiction can manifest itself in many ways including an uncontrollable urge to check your messages as soon as you get the alert. You might also hide from your family or friends while you’re on your devices. It can replace sleep and eating time because your need for screen time overtakes your need for regular daily functions.

The Fix: Wong says that the key to avoiding or treating addiction is to first be open and honest about your usage. You can also work on replacing negative screen time habits with healthier ones like exercise or social situations. A counselor can also help you overcome addiction and restore a normal screen habit.

Bad Posture:

The constant use of a screen can lead to very poor posture. You might find yourself hunched over in front of your device or slouched comfortably in a chair. You’re so engrossed in what’s on the screen that you don’t realize the slow re-shaping of your spine taking place.

“Holding a tablet too low in your lap [for example] can place the small, interlocking bones at the top of the spine (the cervical vertebrae) and the neck muscles into an unnatural posture,” says a Harvard Health report that examined several studies on screen time and posture. “This can strain muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, and spinal discs.”

Over time, the spinal damage can become permanent, causing long term pain and even disfigurement, particularly in the neck and upper back.

The Fix: The report suggests several ways to reduce the problems associated with poor posture, including choosing ergonomic furniture with good lumbar support and placing a computer just below eye level.

You could also invest in technology that reminds you to sit up straighter. For example, you can attach a tool like Upright GO Posture Trainer to your back. It will buzz when you’re sitting incorrectly, reminding you to sit up straight.

Most of the issues associated with too much screen time can be corrected if you recognize them early and take proactive steps to reduce the negative effects.

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