Screen Time for Adults: What is Too Much & Ways to Reduce Your Screen Time

Screen Time for Adults: What is Too Much & Ways to Reduce Your Screen Time

"... the content you’re consuming may actually matter more than the overall time you spend on your devices."

Checking email, posting photos, unwinding with your favorite late-night show — from morning to evening, there always seems to be a reason to stare at a screen. Screens are at work, at home, and right there in your pocket; kids today will never know a world without them and for some of us adults, those days can feel like so long ago. 

But how do you know when your screen time has become excessive? Read on to find out the negative effects of too much screen time and how to take steps to reduce your use of screens. 

On Average, How Much Time Do Adults Spend on Screens? 

Studies show that adults spend an average of almost seven hours on screens globally.1 This may include using a computer at work, using a tablet, and watching TV. Average phone screen time hovers at around three hours and 43 minutes, which is more than half of total online time. If you think that’s a lot, consider other studies that have shown adults using screens for as many as 11 hours per day.2 

How Much Screen Time is Too Much?

It can be difficult to gauge when screen time has become excessive because the research is still relatively new. But according to some experts like Yalda T. Uhls, an assistant adjunct professor of psychology at UCLA, the content you’re consuming may actually matter more than the overall time you spend on your devices.3 Watching a documentary or TED talk, for instance, may not be as bad as mindlessly scrolling through your social media feed. 

If you’re unsure your screen time is excessive, ask yourself if you have any of the following negative effects we’ll discuss below. Then you can start taking steps to cut down your usage and examine the kind of media you do consume. 

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Negative Effects of Too Much Screen Time

Though some researchers have suggested that screen time is not as damaging to adult brains, there are some established consequences, including eye strain, impaired sleep, increased BMI, and more. Find out more about the negative effects of too much screen time below.

Eye Strain & Potential Future Sight Issues 

Excessive screen time can have detrimental effects to your eyes and overall vision. You tend to blink less when you look at screens and the blue light emitted from your device can actually damage cells in your retina. Some of the negative effects on your sight include:4

  • Dry and irritated eyes
  • Eye strain or fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Nearsightedness
  • Retinal damage

Insomnia or Poor Sleep 

Screen time is also associated with poor sleep. That blue light that poses a risk to your retina also disrupts your circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle. This interferes with melatonin production and keeps you alert, leading to insomnia and disjointed sleep. 

Reduced Physical Activities 

Spending too much time on screens also means spending less time being active. This can lead to a higher BMI and other weight-related health issues. Some studies also show a correlation between excessive screen time and higher BMI independent of physical activity.5 This means that even if one is physically active, more screen time may still be associated with being overweight or obese. One reason this may occur is because people who eat while looking at screens tend to overeat because their satiety cues are dulled. 

Changes in Cognition 

Excessive screen time is known to change gray matter and white volumes in the brain, increasing the risk of mental disorders and impairing memory and learning.6 These are known risk factors for dementia.

Addictive Behaviors 

Because of the impact screen time has on the brain, researchers have found a link between excessive screen time and enhanced addictive behaviors. This is especially true for those who lack social support. By hijacking the reward center of the brain and dopamine production (just like other addictive behaviors), screen time has been known to lead to “more profound sadness, loneliness, and isolation.”7  

What's a Healthy Amount of Screen Time?

Here are the guidelines for recommended screen time by age:8

  • 18-24 months: Screen time discouraged
  • 2-5 years: 1 hour
  • 6-17: 2 hours
  • Adults: 2-4 hours

But keep in mind that just as important as how much you use screens is how you’re using them. If you are finding it difficult to sleep, work, eat well, stay physically active, and socialize, and you have a hunch that your screen use is excessive, it may be time to cut back.

Tips for Reducing Screen Time 

Reducing your screen time doesn’t have to be as extreme as going cold turkey. There are a number of small steps you can take to have a healthier relationship with screens, such as tracking how much you use your devices and powering down well before bedtime. The most challenging device to limit is probably your phone because it is always present and always ready to ding you with a notification. Here are some ways to cut down your screen time when it comes to phones.

Set a Timer for Your Phone App Usage

The first step in cutting down excessive screen time is to get honest about how much time you spend there. Most phones are equipped with screen time trackers, and will let you know how much time you’re spending on social media, entertainment, and more. You can also set a timer for yourself and give yourself permission to only spend a certain amount of time on your phone. 

Turn On "Do Not Disturb"

Even with the best intentions, it can be difficult to limit your screen time when constant notifications are flooding in. Turning on your “Do Not Disturb” setting will let others know that you’re off limits for the moment and give you some space to step away.

Leave Your Phone in Another Room at Bedtime

To resist the urge to use your phone in bed and wreck your sleep, keep all devices out of the bedroom. This is also helpful in preventing you from reaching for them first thing in the morning. Most experts agree that powering down at least an hour before sleep will prevent blue light from messing with your sleep-wake cycle.

There is a strong correlation between excessive screen time and anxiety. Too much screen time is also known to exacerbate symptoms of ADHD or mimic symptoms of ADHD. For this reason, “Controlled Screen Time” is one of 5 Pillars of Brillia’s holistic strategy. Along with following a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, practicing mindfulness, the strategy empowers children, teens, and adults to manage anxiety, restlessness, irritability, and stress through behavioral changes scientifically proven to promote emotional regulation and a cognitive function. If you need more support, you can use the 5th Pillar, Brillia, a non-prescription medication designed to reduce anxiety and symptoms of ADHD without harsh chemicals or harmful side effects.

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References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
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