We are more and more focused on the screen for entertainment, work and social life…but is there a downside? Big screen or little screen, are your viewing habits harming you?
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.
Guilty of being a couch potato?
Pokemon 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 on our backsides. 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 15% greater for people who sit over 8 hours per day and 40% greater for people who sit over 11 hours per day, when compared to more active people.
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 are 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.
Suffering from aches and pains?
I would be a rich woman if I had a pound for every time I told my teens to stop slouching on the sofa over their laptops. There is 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 2 hours a day at a screen increases the risk of neck, shoulder and back pain.
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’.
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 gray matter important for higher functions such as processing, prioritising and planning as well as showing compassion and developing relationships.
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 are 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!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Sally Norton is an NHS weight loss consultant surgeon, and founder of www.vavistalife.com