Screen time, how much is too much?

We have all heard that children need to have limitations on how much time they spend in front of a screen, but what about us grown-ups?

Does the time that we spend in front of a screen effect our well being in the same manner as a child?  Research demonstrates that yes, in fact it does and we do need to be cognizant of the time that we spend staring into a tablet, computer, TV or our ever-present cellphones.  

Image: Guiherme Stecanella/Unplash

Turn off those screens prior to bedtime to allow for your brain’s natural circadian rhythm to cycle. 

As discussed previously ( screens emit the same light waves as sunlight and can disrupt our sleep-wake cycle, so limiting exposure to a screen at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime will help secure a good night’s sleep.

Screens are a part of life, and have become even more part of our life since the start of the COVID19 pandemic. 

This is a reality that we have to live with, however, when it comes to screens what is important is having a healthy relationship with screen time.  If you find yourself tapping your cellphone in a brief moment of boredom it might just be out of habit, or, could it be an addiction?  Scientists have demonstrated that social media interactions, such as positive comments, photos of loved ones, or “likes,” all activate the dopamine reward system of our brains.  This powerful neurotransmitter keeps us coming back for more, and the variability of what we might get, the gambling aspect of it, can create an addiction for some users.  Furthermore, a 2017 study ( demonstrated an association between spending more than 6 hours on a screen and depression.

Because we are typically sedentary while using screens it can effect our bodies too. 

I have had an increase in musculoskeletal pain visits since people began to work remotely from their home offices.  I encourage everyone to stretch and take a 5-10 minute break every hour out of the chair to stretch and walk away from the computer.  Additionally, the “Rule of 20’s” is important for eye health: when working at the computer every 20 minutes take a 20 second break and focus on something 20 feet away.  Finally, the more time spent on screen time, the less time we spend moving.  There are many studies that have shown an association between increased screen time and increased BMI.  

Image: Jan Baborak/Unplash

So how can we reduce our screen time?

First, we can become more aware of when we are using screens.  Set aside dedicated time to look at your phone rather than just habitually pulling it up whenever there is a quick moment to glance at it.  Establish times that you will be free of screens such as the when eating or in bed or when interacting with others.  Replace screen time with other activities; for instance if you watch TV with your family every evening, try a game night once a week, or go for a family walk.  Rather than watch TV or look at your phone until it is time to sleep, choose a time that the screen will go off 30-60 minutes prior to bedtime, then pick out a good book or write in your journal or practice your meditation and drift into a good night’s rest.       

Image: National Cancer Institute/Unsplash

Leave a Reply