Our lives have been incalculably changed by the forward march of technology. Perhaps the single biggest technological innovation in modern times is the smartphone, the small computer owned and used by over 53 million people in the UK alone.
Between the smartphones in our pockets, the computers and laptops we use for work and social media, and the televisions we use for leisure, screens take up an increasingly large portion of our daily lives. According to a study led by Ofcom, adults spend around 6 hours and 25 minutes on screens a day.
This is a fundamental and unprecedented shift in the way we live our lives, and it may be having a dramatic impact on our overall health. But in what specific ways could screen time be impacting our health?
The UK has already experienced a major obesity crisis, as changing habits and the prevalence of fast foods increased child obesity figures across the country. But the problem may be set for significant resurgence, as increased use of screens by children and adults indicates a reduction in physical exercise. As more people glue themselves to their screens, more people are living sedentary lifestyles – with knock-on impacts on cardiovascular health and stroke risk.
Screens can also have a real impact on our sleep patterns, as a result of a fundamental way in which our brain interprets light. Our circadian rhythm, or the ‘rhythm’ by which we grow tired, sleep and wake up, is somewhat dictated by the light received by our eyes.
Our screens emit light with a blueish hue, mimicking daylight to our circadian rhythm and resulting in higher levels of alertness. This phenomenon, coupled with the tendency to use screens late into the night and before bed, can seriously reduce quality of sleep.
Screen time could also be having a direct and tangible impact on our eyesight and overall eye health. In paying attention to our devices, we are blinking less, causing our eyes to dry out faster. We are also fatiguing our eyes through constant focus on close-by objects.
Experts at contact lens specialists Lenstore have suggested a short-term solution to help with both of these issues, in the form of the “20-20-20” rule. For every 20 minutes spent looking at a screen or close object, you should spend 20 seconds focusing on an object 20 feet away.
For all the significant physical health issues that excess screen time can provide, there are also significant mental health issues to consider. These issues are triggered more by the content held by the screens, as social media platforms impose unrealistic standards and pressures on their users – but the act of giving a majority of your day to a screen can be enough to reduce meaningful stimuli, and cause depression and anxiety.