Have you ever noticed just how much time we spend staring at screens? Think about it for a minute. You’ve got emails, messages, calls, and texts that require some screen time. Then you’ve got work. If you work in an office, agency, or even in retail, chances are you spend a considerable number of hours looking at a screen. This isn’t to mention leisure time. Want to zone out with a music video or game to help pass the time as you commute? Or perhaps you’d prefer to binge-watch your favourite shows when you get home?

Regardless of how you spend your day, it’s more and more likely that you will spend some of your time staring at a screen. But what does this mean for your health? 

Australians love their screens.

According to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), 92% of us use the internet, with over 10 million of us accessing it more than once a day. Combine this number with the volume of people who also watch TV during their daily lives, and you have close to 99.9% screen saturation.

As with all things, moderation should be the guiding factor. But as we all become more attached to our devices for work, communication, and social needs, it becomes harder to give our eyes a break.

How many hours do you spend each week looking at screens?

How many hours do you spend each week looking at screens?

So what are the consequences of this behaviour? 

According to some reports, it's perhaps more important to your overall health than it first appears. Overuse of technology has links to issues relating to poor sleep quality, difficulties in managing stress, low self-esteem, and even weight gain. Luckily, there’s one simple way to get ahead of the game.

Hit the switch.

Turn off your devices. It may seem like an obvious choice, but it’s also hard for many to do. There are a couple of habits that get ingrained to make it a struggle. But with the right planning and a little bit of determination, it is possible to carve out some tech-free time in your day.

Perhaps the best time of day to go tech-free is the hour or two before bed. This is ideal, as it is traditionally a time to wind down from the day’s activities and relax before going to sleep. Work and personal communications are done for the day. Without these commitments, it really is one of the best times to go screen-free.

But what about watching a cheeky bit of YouTube or Netflix before hitting the hay? Not a good idea, according to the experts. Have you ever noticed that the more time you spend staring at screens, the more tired you feel the next day? You’re not alone.

“Screen-lag” is a phenomenon known to cause sleep disruption. The light from your mobile devices interferes with the pituitary gland in your brain, causing it to extend or ignore the circadian rhythm of our bodies which govern sleep. 

How often do you look at screens in bed?

How often do you look at screens in bed?

One small study of tablet users found that the blue light produced by these devices resulted in the lowered production of the sleep hormone melatonin by 22 per cent after just two hours of exposure. This is enough to throw sleeping patterns off by as much as three hours. But in practice, any sufficiently bright screen will have a similar effect.

The result? Regular late-night screen-users can develop sleep disorders, as well as show symptoms associated with stress and depression.

But the fix is simple! Just switch off your devices two to three hours before your bedtime. This will give your brain space it needs to settle, giving you a better night’s rest.

It’s not just good for your eyes.

Switching off your devices can help take a load off your neck and shoulders. The human head weighs a lot, and if you are hunched up over a screen for hours, your posture (and gravity) will put extra pressure on your neck and spine, resulting in what some sufferers call “text neck”. This tightening of the muscles in the neck and spine can restrict blood flow and impinge on nerves, causing bad headaches and damaging the connective tissues and bone structures in your neck and back.

It cuts the cost of caring.

We all know that focusing on the concerns of others is a very human activity to do. We are social animals, and it’s in our nature to pay attention to the plights and successes of those around us.

The issue with social media is that we can be exposed to these stories at any time of day. The issue is that paying attention to others comes at a cost. When a peer expresses their concerns over a stressful situation, we take that stress on ourselves, even if we’re not involved.

On the flip side, over-engagement with social media can leave you feeling insecure, as you are subconsciously comparing your life with the lives of others. And because people only ever post about the highs and lows of their lives, you don’t see the hum-drum they experience. But you’re keenly aware of your own. 

How is your use of technology impacting your mood?

How is your use of technology impacting your mood?

So if you’re feeling under pressure, or like you’re struggling to keep up, taking time off to unplug may be the best way forward. 

It lets you be a better person.

Anecdotally, it’s easy to find evidence of people who are nice online, but distant in real life. This is evident in behaviour like “phubbing” or “phone-snubbing” where people are too busy with their online activities to pay attention to people nearby.

This coincides with a report out of the US, where researchers at the University of Maryland found that a link between people who spend “a lot of time” on their smartphones are more “selfish” and do not consider “how their actions affect other people” as much as those who spend less time on their phones .

It also doesn’t seem to matter how good you are at multitasking. Research shows that individuals who engage in multitasking might see themselves as great at keeping an eye on the ball but are in fact more likely to be less able to focus on multiple things at once.

It will make you fitter.

Exercise is one of the most beneficial activities you can do to promote health. But many of us put it off, saying that we don’t have the time. But on closer examination, this excuse doesn’t always stack up.

Think about how much much time you spend sitting down behind a laptop, watching a TV screen. If you take two hours of that time away each day, you are suddenly left with a vacuum that you could fill with physical activity.

Step up to the challenge and switch out screen time with a walk, a swim, a bike ride or perhaps session at the gym. Anything that gets your pulse up for 20 minutes a day will be beneficial!

It could make you more productive

The simple act of signing out from email, social media and group chats can help you recover from the stresses associated with being available.

Unplugging lets you refocus on your interest and find enjoyment in your daily routine, rather than responding to the requirements of others. With workplace stress and social anxieties being a common factor in people struggling to juggle the demands of home life and professional employment, the ironic move to make to get more done in the long term may be to actively do less in the short term. 

Distancing yourself from the stresses of online communication can help give you perspective, and let you plan out responses rather than relying on more “knee-jerk” reactions.

Find your balance.

Do you find that screens help or hinder your daily enjoyment? Do you think that taking a deliberate timeout will increase productivity, or stifle your fun?

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