Being healthy: more than what you eat and when you work out – Part 2: Screen Time

So aside from rest, what more is there? Eat, sleep, workout, healthy right? Well lets talk about your screen time.

Just take a minute and think about how much time you spend in front of a screen every day, now think about how much of that is actually multi-screening (using two screens at once i.e. On your phone and watching tv or using your laptop while watching tv). It’s scary when you think about how much time you waste staring at a little box.

We are now a society of people who don’t even notice when we pick up our phones or flick our eyes over a screen, even if it’s just for a second. Think about it, how many of these are you guilty of:

  • Checking your phone while you wait for something to load on your computer.
  • Checking your phone as soon as you wake up and right before you go to sleep.
  • Coming home from a long day and instinctively turning on the tv.
  • Checking your phone when you’re out as soon as someone leaves to go to the bathroom or bar.
  • Checking for wifi the second you get to a restaurant, bar, cafe or mall.
  • Picking up your phone or tablet the second you get a notification, no matter what.
  • Watching tv while you work or browse the Internet on your laptop or tablet.
  • Snap chatting everything you do or taking constant photos of a night out or holiday.
  • Sitting in a restaurant and tuning out the person in front of you because something on the tv caught your eye.

The more you think about it the more you realize how much time you spend in front of a screen  without even realizing – do you remember being told as a kid that too much TV would give you square eyes…I’m amazed more people aren’t complete cuboids.

Too much time glued to the screen can have detrimental effects on our health, and while the research is fairly new – as is the phenomenon – and a lot of it is based on children rather than adults there are studies that show exactly how our devices are changing us. According to Psychology Today heavy use of screens seems to be restructuring our brains causing grey matter shrinkage, problems with the communication channels in our white matter and diminishing cognitive function. Now these issues are mostly found in those who suffer from Screen Addiction (now a recognized problem and a very serious one at that) but there are signs of these issues taking place in heavy users though at a slower rate. Either way, not good.

The worst part about too much screen time? Your parents were right. Your eyes may not be boxes but the screens are certainly taking a toll on your vision. The blue light from our screens is actually incredibly harmful to our retinas causing us to strain our eyes.

That same blue light is also why a lot of people struggle to sleep. With such a dependence on our screens it is often the last thing we see before we close our eyes but in actual fact it ends up keeping us awake, and when we can’t sleep we turn to a screen to try help – a vicious cycle of perpetually awake, grumpy humans.

The blue light emitted from our screens signals to our brain something similar to daylight preventing it from producing the chemicals needed to sleep and while many phone makers have started adding a nighttime mode that gives your phone that yellowish hue it isn’t really enough and you need at least 20 minutes of screen free time before you want to sleep.
But it’s not just the physical manifestations of overloading your brain with screens that cause us harm, the emotional toll it takes on us as a society is terrifying, today people are far less socialized and emotionally available as previous generations; we are unable to interact person to person as easily as we should be able to. Hiding behind our screens is slowly turning us into hermits who desire little to no physical human interaction and would rather share pointless memes to amuse friends, send badly taken, blurry nudes to try find a mate and yell at one another through headsets as we gun down aliens on our games consoles.

So how do you stop when we live in a world where we need screens, we can’t avoid them sometimes – most people work jobs that require at least 5 hours of screen time a day. Well here are are a few ways to control the amount of time you spend stuck in the glare:

  • Use the 20/20 rule while you’re working, every 20 minutes get up and walk 20 paces – it takes about 20 seconds. Even this seemingly short and pointless amount of time is enough to give your eyes a little break without taking too much away from your work.
  • Leave your phone in the other room when you go to bed. I’m sure you’ve already come up with a million excuses of why you have to have it in your room just from reading that sentence but trust me – remove the temptation to pre-sleep stalk. If your phone is your alarm, buy an alarm clock (yes they still make them), if you use your phone to find your way to the loo in the middle of the night, get a torch or a nightlight. The same goes for your laptop, tablet, smart watch, leave them in the other room, on silent, nothing is that important at 3am that you need to hear buzzing and beeping all night long.
  • Use boredom as an excuse to do something constructive, get the things done that you’ve been putting up, tackle the dreaded wire drawer, clean out your make up drawer, write a letter, don’t just pick up your phone and mindlessly scroll.
  • Make meal times screen free time, turn off the TV, put the phones and tablets away and enjoy your food. Pay attention to what you’re eating, speak to your family, partner, kids, roommates, cat, who ever you’re dining with and don’t let yourself back in front of a screen until the dishes are done and the table is tidy.
  • Turn it off. It seems drastic but seriously, turn your devices off. If you’ve got a work phone, tablet or laptop then this one is even more important. If you finish work at 6, leave work at 6 and the second you step through your front door that phone goes off – or at least on silent – nothing is so important you have to be reading emails at 9pm. Put it face down somewhere you won’t be tempted to look at it and leave it there until you leave for the office in the morning.

Here are a few apps – ironic I know, but there’s always “an app for that” – that can help limit the amount of time you spend on your phone and/or tablet:

  • Moment: This iOS app tracks how much time you and/or your family use their iPhones and iPads each day and includes the ability to set time limits.
  • BreakFree: works on both iOS and Android and monitors the time you spend on screen or on one particular app. You can set limits and when these are reached the app sends warnings. You can also set downtime where your device will have no internet connection and you can set an auto text reply, etc.
  • Flipd: This app for Android lets you turn off your phone while it sends auto-replies to people who contact you during the off time.
  • Dinner Mode: A similar app to Flipd, but for iOS. You can turn the phone off and don’t have to worry about missing anything.
  • App Detox: Another Android app, this time it limits the usage of particular apps rather than the whole phone. It will send warning notifications when you spend go over the limit you set for yourself.
  • bSocial: This reward type app offers screen time based on how much time you spend off screen.

Keep in mind when setting limits for these apps – or indeed just for yourself – that experts suggest around 2 hours of non-work related screen time is what you should be aiming for as a maximum. Yes, just 2 hours.

To read the rest of this series:

Being healthy: more than what you eat and when you work out – Part 1

Being healthy: more than what you eat and when you work out – Part 3

Being healthy: more than what you eat and when you work out – Part 4

Being healthy: more than what you eat and when you work out – Part 5

Being healthy: more than what you eat and when you work out – Part 6

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