It is no secret that screens have infested our lives. We wake up to glaringly bright alarms from our phones, read digitized articles and books, and spend any unoccupied moment scrolling on social media. While having immediate access to resources and endless entertainment through our electronic devices is convenient, it has also undeniably affected our health.
According to DataReportal, Americans spend over 7 hours a day staring at a screen. To put that into perspective, that is only 1 hour less than the number of hours we should be sleeping. Our devices have even infiltrated areas of our life that used to cater to our time away from screens.
School used to allow kids’ eyes and minds to rest from the onslaught of blue light that screens emit. Nowadays, curriculum is practically based upon screens and the internet. Similarly, the time we used to spend flipping through a tangible piece of writing has now morphed into more screen time as well. Magazine subscriptions, newspapers, books, and pretty much anything else that can be physically published is now accessible by the simple touch of a button.
It is difficult to blame our society for utilizing the tools given to it, but the amount of time we invest into screens is seriously impacting our well-being. Physically, the time we spend looking at a screen can result in vision problems, weight gain, and even risk for Type 2 Diabetes. The burning eyes, the poor posture, and the constant assault of headaches one acquires from working on their computer all day are immediate proof of the negatives that come with extended screen usage. However, long term effects are also bound to manifest after extensive screen use.
It does not take long for one to become addicted to handheld devices, and arguably more concerning are the effects that it can have on an individual’s sleep. Bluelight has been shown to interrupt the body’s production of melatonin and its circadian rhythm. This results in trouble falling and staying asleep. Sleep is essential for well-being; lack of sleep can cause overall imbalance in the body and create issues like extreme fatigue and brain fog. Excessive sleep deprivation can even result in high blood pressure and depression. The link between screen usage and sleep troubles is undeniable, and it further proves the danger of our society’s reliance on screens.
With the end of daylight saving time occurring this Sunday, Nov. 6, we are now facing more hours of darkness with the impending gloom of winter weather. More time spent indoors and more inclination to turn on something bright will inevitably surmount to individuals’ screen times rising. Along with the usual changing of seasons, our society is also still in the midst of consequences brought on by COVID-19. Many students still have their classes online or through zoom sessions, and now more than ever is school curriculum based upon the internet and devices with a screen.
These circumstances are not even the end of the issue. The habits that our society has fallen into due to the pandemic have further worsened our addiction to screens. With the immense amount of time many of us had on our hands while confined indoors, it is no question why we adopted further dependence on screens. Entertainment, resources, and human connection all became solely accessible through our devices. COVID-19 practically caused our whole world to shift to online resources whether we wanted to or not, and especially as the pandemic remains relevant, the human collective is still dealing with the effects that self-isolation has had on our habits and routines.
While there is no likelihood that humans will begin to disconnect from screens in the masses in the near (or far) future, there are still actions we can take as individuals. Circumstance has required our devices to become a mandatory part of our lives, but small changes in habit can still help the adverse effects screen time has on our well-being.
Tips for getting off screens
One way to truly comprehend how much time you are staring at a screen per day is to track it. You can jot down the time you are spending online the old-fashioned way – with pen and paper – or utilize the analytics on your devices, such as the screen time function on iPhones. Visual evidence of your time usage and most frequently used apps will allow you to focus on your own needs and help initiate action in trying to resolve unhealthy tendencies.
It is almost second-nature these days to look at a screen any time we are not preoccupied. Our obsessive habits have even spilled into activities that should not be screen-related. We scroll on social media at the bus stop, put on a movie for “background noise,” and even watch a TV series while exercising without a second thought. With such convenient devices to avoid awkward interactions and distract our minds, it is easy for even more screen time to sneak into our lives. To lessen the amount of time we spend online, it is beneficial to create intentional time and activities to spend on screens so that we can make other parts of our day completely screen-free. Allotting yourself one hour of time to check your social platforms or watch a tv show is more worthwhile compared to quick phone checks that eventually add up to multiple hours wasted on your device. Designate times to use your electronics and times where it is strictly off-limits.
No phones in bed
Now this one is hard. I even cannot seem to get past the nighttime habit of crawling into bed only to stare at my phone for another good hour or two. However, this tendency not only steals from precious sleep time, but it worsens quality of sleep. As mentioned before, the light emitted from phones can hinder our bodies’ natural circadian rhythm. Some also believe that the radiation coming from our phones has incredibly harmful effects on our health. Our addiction to constantly checking our phones along with the technological dangers of them being beside us all night make out for some pretty dreadful sleep. Set a deadline and make sure that phone is far from you before you head to bed.
Some of us do not have the luxury of abstaining from screens for lengthy periods of time. Many individuals work from home or attend zoom sessions for school. That is also without including all the extra time completing assignments or paperwork online outside of scheduled work or class. If this is your case, blocking break times into your daily schedule can help reduce the effects of screens. For example, every hour you spend doing work, take a 15 minute break to decompress. You can stretch and move your body, make yourself a nourishing snack or beverage, or even just sit and do nothing. Just take your eyes away from the screen for a moment and allow your mind to rest.
Find Off-Screen Hobbies
I know video games are fun and being on social media is a hobby in itself nowadays, but cutting down screentime is a lot easier when you have activities that steer clear of the internet. Settling down with a physical book is an amazing way to relax and strengthen the mind without hand-held devices. Other activities could be hiking, going out with friends – with a no-phone policy –, or cooking an elaborate meal from a real cookbook – trust me, they still exist. Not only do activities keep you away from screens, but they also have benefits that counteract the hazards that come from device-usage. For example, doing a fun form of exercise can improve mood and actually promote better sleep. When you aren’t bored and you’re actually enjoying yourself, it makes screen-detoxing pretty easy.
Our addiction to screens isn’t going anywhere soon, and I am incredibly aware that a lot of methods pertaining to lessening screen time seem or actually are impossible. It is the little changes in habit that are going to be the most beneficial. Even knocking off a single hour of screentime from your daily average is something to be proud of. The most important step is to just be aware. Being aware of how screens are impacting you is the only way to combat them and, in turn, make change. So make goals, switch up your routine, and don’t be ashamed if you fall back on old habits once in a while. Sometimes, we just need to binge-watch our favorite tv show to stay sane.
Mo is an alumni of Seattle Central and is currently attending the University of Washington with aspirations to pursue a career in journalism and communications while also delving into anthropology. She aims to explore the world and reveal the stories it wishes to tell through her writing and photography/videography. When she’s not captivated by her journalistic pursuits, she loves to go on adventures, create, watch films, and surf.