The rapidly developing tech world has opened us up to new possibilities. We interact with one another in real-time at the press of a button, or via moving pixelated pictures. The whole world is available to us via a digital screen, and sometimes we are unaware of how much time we spend with our eyes glued to one (or two, or three—who uses just their computer these days?)
Research has shown that too much screen time can have serious effects on one’s health over time. While it is nearly impossible to eliminate one’s screen time entirely (it is the 21st century after all), here are a few reasons you might consider cutting down on how many hours a day you spend looking at your smartphone, tablet, computer, etc.
Screens cause eye strain.
Possibly the most obvious effect of too much screen time, eye strain has become increasingly common over the last decade. Digital screens emit blue light, which has a significant effect on our circadian rhythms, especially if you are exposed heavily to it at night. Aside from keeping you awake (blue light suppresses the hormone melatonin, which is a key hormone needed for sleep), looking at a screen for too long—and especially in the dark—can strain your eyes and can even damage the retina over time.
A good rule of thumb for reducing eye strain is the “twenty” rule. If you have been glued to a screen for twenty minutes, look away and at an object at least twenty feet away, and fix your eyes on that object for at least twenty seconds.
The brain rewires itself according to screen addiction.
This takes longer to happen in adults than it does in children, but studies show that addiction to gadget use and the subsequent screen time can affect the brain’s grey matter. Grey matter is responsible for the transmission of signals from neuron to neuron. The more exposure to screens, the greater the chances for screen addiction, leading to an eventual decrease in grey matter that affects the way signals between neurons are transmitted. This later results in an overall decrease in cognitive performance. (Another way of putting it is: spending too much time looking at screens can, theoretically, make you stupid.)
Too much screen time affects metabolism.
A study in 2008 showed that people who generally spend more time looking at their screens are those who lead sedentary lifestyles. While metabolic syndrome is not strictly caused by looking at screens, the data showed a strong correlation between the amount of screen time and the subsequent development of metabolic syndrome caused by several hours of physical inactivity. The syndrome is a mix of acquired diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity—all of which you get from sitting still.
Another effect of spending several hours on a computer, tablet, or smartphone is poorer cardiovascular health, which leads to a greater risk for developing fatal heart disease later in life; in 2011, researchers found that adults who had plenty of screen time increased the likelihood of their death by a whopping 52%.
Exercise and a healthy diet—combined with actually logging off the tech—can help significantly reduce that statistic. If you’re going to be spending time in front of a screen, you may as well be outside. Why not try an setting up an outdoor movie theater and let the kids enjoy both nature and a great flick.