When we worry about excessive screen time, we probably picture kids watching tablets on cartoons all day or teenage gamers with headphones on late into the night. In fact, most of us probably spend too much time on our devices. In a world where we work, attend school, communicate with loved ones and seek entertainment on a screen, striking a healthy balance seems more possible on some days than others.
How Does Screen Time Affect Adults?
The National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey looked at the screen habits of more than 3,000 U.S. adults. The researchers found a correlation between more than six hours of computer use or TV watching a day and the presence of moderate to severe depression.
An abundance of screen time can also limit your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. That's because the blue light produced by devices can cause the brain to perceive daylight. As a result, the nervous system doesn't release sleep-regulating hormones, creating a vicious cycle in which you never feel rested.
Adults may also experience physical effects of excessive screen time. These symptoms include neck and back pain, poor posture, sensitivity to light, dry eyes and headaches, particularly migraines.
Healthy Screen Time Per Day
Because pervasive device use is still a relatively recent phenomenon, science doesn't have a magic number of hours it's safe to spend on screen. We do know that the average American spends nearly 24 hours a week online according to the 2017 study Surveying the Digital Future. For most of us, moderation is the key to healthy device use.
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Start by keeping a journal of how and when you use screens, looking for patterns that trigger overuse. For example, you might find you spend hours scrolling through your Instagram feed after a not-so-great day at work. Replace that activity with a relaxing walk, a few minutes of meditation or a chat with a family member. There are also apps on your mobile device that track your screen time and where it is spent. As well, it is important to try and avoid screen time as you get closer to bedtime.
To limit device use, designate certain hours as screen-free zones. For example, take an hour to unwind before dinner without using your phone. Try to avoid screens for the hour before you go to sleep and the hour after you wake up each day.
Let's say you spend about the U.S. average of 24 hours a week on your screen. Cutting out an hour a day reduces your weekly screen time to 17 hours. If you can reduce your device use by 90 minutes a day, you'll decrease your screen time by about 41% to less than 14 hours a week.
How To Help With the Negative Effects of Screen Time
Keeping the phone out of your bed and bedroom can reduce your risk for sleep-related side effects. Try winding down with a paperback or magazine at night instead. If you must have your device nearby as you get ready to slumber, purchase a pair of glasses that filters blue light.
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