The Harmful Effects of Too Much Screen Time
What is potentially the worst hazard to our health these days? You may be aware of the harmful affects of screen time on children, or grownups, for that matter. Or not. But the fact remains–too much screen time is bad for all of us, whether it be working on a laptop all week, looking at a phone screen frequently throughout the day and night, or playing video games for hours on end.
The Harmful Effects of Screen Time On Children
One more thing that has impacted us, since the current nightmare began.
Our physical health and that of our children. And the hardest hit – our eyes. During times of isolation and working remotely, our eyes are exposed to a significant amount more screen time than previously. It is harmful to our eye health and, even more so, the eyes of our children in so many ways.
Dr. Noha Ekdawi, a pediatric ophthalmologist suggests limiting your kids’ recreational screen time to1-2 hours per day and establish screen free zones in your home. During these trying times online learning is necessary but other screen times must be curtailed to a great degree.
How Screen Time Affects Your Eyes
Several aspects of this, such as viewing angles and screen glare cause our eyes to work harder and for longer periods than ever before. This causes, among many other things, Computer Vision Syndrome or digital eye strain. This in turn causes myopia or nearsightedness as well as the opposite, farsightedness.
One study by researchers in India discovered that fifty percent of children taking online classes had digital eye strain. And long term this could evolve into permanent eye damage. It is a particular issue for elementary school aged children whose eyes are especially prone to myopia. This can be corrected by glasses or contact lenses but nearsighted people are at a higher risk for retinal tears, cataracts, and macular degeneration.
While sitting across the table or room from each other we tend to blink our eyes approximately fifteen times per minute. But while staring at a computer screen we blink from 5-7 times per minute. This lack of blinking plus the blue light from the screen are the cause of most of the current eye issues such as dry eye syndrome. Symptoms of this include a stinging, burning, and/or scratchy sensation in your eyes, sensitivity to light, redness in the eyes, feeling as though there is something in your eye, difficulty driving at night, and blurred vision. This is usually treatable with less screen time and eye drops.
Prolonged screen time can also cause blurred vision, headaches, and neck and back pain.
Can Too Much Screen Time Affect Your Sleep?
Trouble sleeping is another malady due to excess screen time.
Screens, whether it be your smart phone, your computer, or your TV screen emit blue light. This disrupts our circadian rhythms at night when we are trying to sleep. During normal times when the sun sets we produce melatonin which regulates our circadian rhythms, causing us to become sleepy. In another study people who spent four hours reading e-books before bed for five nights produced 55% less melatonin, thus finding it harder to fall asleep.
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Screen Time Affects Brain Development: How Too Much Screen Time Affects the Brain
A very alarming discovery has been the change being seen in the brains of people, mostly children, who spend too much time peering at screens. Data has clearly shown that children who spent more than two hours per day on screens scored lower on thinking and language skills.
Let’s look at some ways in which you can distance yourself (and your children) from too much screen time:
How To Limit Screen Time
- go outside whenever possible for breaks. This creates a good readjustment for the eyes. The outdoor environment provides bright and full spectral light and sharp images of distant objects, helping to avoid myopia. And avoid wearing sunglasses.
- follow the 20-20-20 rule. For every 20 minutes staring at a screen, take a 20-second break by looking at something that is at least 20 feet in the distance.
- blue light blockers. These glasses when worn during the day help to avoid the blue light rays that affect sleep and prevent eye exhaustion.
- make bedtime screen free for adults and children alike.
- introduce fun family activities that do not include screens of any kind
- for those working at a desk, break up screen time with other related activities such as phone calls, filing, or other non-screen tasks.
- blink often and make sure your workstation is ergonomic. Use a glare filter when possible.
- start consuming the following foods to combat screen time damage:
Vitamin C – oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, papaya, green peppers, and tomatoes
Vitamin E – vegetable oils, almonds, pecans, wheat germ, and sunflower seeds
Omega 3 fatty acids – fish and other seafood, nuts and seeds, plant oils, and fortified foods such as
Some brands of eggs, yogurt, juices, and milk.
Zinc – red meat, legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, and beans, shellfish, and hemp, flax, pumpkin, or squash seeds
Vegetables such as dark green leafy, broccoli, orange peppers, corn, peas, persimmons, and tangerines.
Unfortunately there is no way around using screens whether for work, play, or school during these trying times, but if we are cognizant of the damage that this can cause, whether permanent or temporary, we can go a long way towards eliminating or at least minimizing the worst of it.
You now know the extent of why too much screen time is bad, and the harmful effects of screen time on children and adults, and how screen time affects brain development, if you didn’t before.
If we know how too much screen time affects the brain, vision, and health in general, we should have no excuse for not making a decided effort (please do!) to practice ways to limit screen time, throughout the day, every day.