Nieszczur: Minimize screen time for maximum health benefit

January 16, 2019

Beep! Tweet! Ring! Flash! Is there ever really a moment when our technology devices don’t fight for our attention?


According to a 2018 Nielsen Company audience report, Americans spend an average of 11 hours a day reading, watching, listening to or interacting with digital media.


This average has increased 1.5 hours from a similar survey conducted in 2014.


In the American education system, devices are increasingly becoming common in the classroom.


In 2016, a United States Energy Information Administration report found that 9 out of 10 U.S. schools use computers; the overall number of devices in the classroom increased 71 percent from 1999 to 2012, with today’s numbers surely exceeding these.


A study done by deNoyelles and Rabile at the University of Central Florida from 2012 to 2016 found that e-textbook use increased 42 percent to 66 percent in just that four-year period.


At home, American device use is on the rise as well: A 2018 Pew Research

Center study found that 95 percent of Americans owned a cellphone in 2018, up

from just 62 percent of Americans owning one in 2002.


Similarly, in 2011, 35 percent of Americans owned a smartphone device, with that number exceeding 77 percent in 2018.


In 2009, only 2 percent of Americans owned an e-reader device, with that number now approaching 22 percent.


In 2010, only 3 percent of Americans owned a tablet computer, compared to 53 percent of Americans owning one in 2018.


Even with the rise of smartphones and more portable mobile devices, home ownership of desktop or laptop computers have only dropped from 74 percent to 73 percent since 2008.


Clearly, Americans are more connected and accessible than ever. We can check our email messages at our fingertips, make a phone call to someone across the globe and surf the web while we eat our breakfasts.


But what are the effects of all this screen time?


Eyes: The Myopia Institute found that increased time spent staring at screens can lead to eye strain, soreness, heaviness, tiredness, dry eye, nausea, headaches or myopia development (nearsightedness) from the blue light emitted from devices.


Sleep: Psychologist Sara Thomee from the University of Gothenburg found that blue-light emitting devices can suppress the sleep-supporting hormone melatonin and can prevent restful sleep.


Reward-seeking: The brain releases dopamine, its pleasure hormone, in response to positive social media attention and creates a cycle of craving for further positive responses, studies have found.


Health decline: Sitting or being inactive for prolonged periods of time while scrolling through the web has been linked to obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.


Social skills: Multiple surveys and studies have found that increased screen time can lead to an inability to express emotions properly, lack of self-confidence and personality alterations based on the content of media consumed.


Brain development: A 2018 University of Ottawa study found that children (aged 8-11 years old) who spend more than two hours a day looking at screens are at a higher risk for poor memory, language skills and attention span.


So, how do we combat the negative effects of our digital world? Follow the 20-20-20 rule: For every 20 minutes of staring at a screen, take a 20-second break to focus on something at least 20 feet away to prevent eye strain.


Consider getting up from a seated position at least every half-hour and walk around a bit.


Ensure that a computer screen is about arm’s length away from you, with the top of the screen

about 2-3 inches above eye level.


Consider avoiding any digital media use for at least 30 minutes (preferably two hours before) going to bed to maximize sleep quality and quantity.


Set a timer for yourself when taking breaks on a digital device. Similarly, set time limits and rules for children’s use and be a positive example of digital device use.


Our world doesn’t show signs of slowing down its digital growth, but you can slow down the progress of negative health effects of screen time with a little bit of effort, foresight and self-discipline: You don’t have to become a “screen-slaver!”


Alexis Nieszczur is a fifth-year student in the P3 PharmD program. 


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