How much is too much screen time? How to limit use & stay healthy

The 21st century is dominated by technology. From televisions to laptops to phones, screens are all around us. We look at them for leisure, information, and connection. But too much screen time can have a negative impact on your health. In our guide, learn all about the health risks of excessive screen time and discover how to have a healthier relationship with your devices.

Last updated: 17th Jul 2020 at 2:22pm

How long do we spend on screens?

We will spend an average of 34 years staring at screens, according to research. 2,000 British people took part in the questionnaire, who on an average day watch 3 and a half hours of TV, spend 4 hours on a laptop, and 2 and a half hours on their phones. 

The study, commissioned by Vision Direct, concluded that 64% of people wouldn’t know what to do to replace their screen time, making us aware of just how reliant we are on it. 

Risks of too much screen time

We all know that sitting down for too long isn’t good for our health, and neither is spending that time sitting down staring at bright screens. But are we really aware of all the risks involved in too much screen time?

  • Vision - unsurprisingly, your eyes are one of the most affected body parts. Staring at a screen for too long, whether that’s your phone, laptop or TV, can damage your eyes. Strained, dry eyes, blurry vision, and frequent headaches are the most common symptoms. If you don’t take regular breaks when showing these symptoms, you might seriously damage your eyes and need glasses or contact lenses. 
  • Posture - sitting down at certain angles can damage your neck and back, causing aches and pains that aren’t easily relieved. When using your phone, your head is usually tilted down to face the screen properly. This puts strain on your spine, shoulders and neck. 
  • Weight - physical health problems like weight gain, diabetes and heart issues, can result from sitting down for too long whilst using screens. The television seems to be the larger culprit here, with fast-food ads, long films, and less time for activity between episodes encouraging a lack of movement and a tendency for snacking. 
  • Lack of sleep - the blue light that is omitted from screens can prevent you from sleeping properly, as it prevents the production of melatonin, the sleep-promoting hormone.

Tips for reducing screen time

  • Screen time notification - on Apple devices, such as an iPhone, iPad or iPod, you can use a service called “Screen Time”. If this is turned on, your device will record how long you are spending on your phone screen and give you weekly reports, or you can go onto it for daily information. You can also set limits and manage a child’s device. 

To activate this on an iOS device: Go into “Settings” - “Screen Time” - Tap “Turn On Screen Time”.

  • Breaks - The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) suggests that short breaks every hour is better for your health than taking a longer break after a longer time spent staring. So taking a 5-10 minute break every hour is more beneficial than taking a 20-30 minute break after 3 hours of working, as you’re ultimately spending less time continuously on a screen. And when you do take your break, try to move - walk, run, cycle, even just stretch, but most importantly stay away from the screens. 
  • Productivity - sometimes, we spend more time staring at a screen than we need to because we haven’t completed our tasks yet. You might find your screen time cut in half if you are more focused and less distracted while doing work. The more you allow yourself to divert, the longer you have to spend getting that task done, and the more time you spend sitting down at your desk. For other productivity tips, check out our home office guide
  • Necessity - if at any point in your working day or leisure time, you can undertake your task through writing in a journal or book, then try swapping out your screen for paper. This will give your eyes that much-needed break. Even if it is just to write your to-do list or meeting notes, use a book instead of your laptop for a while. You can always transfer notes over later if you need to. 
  • After-work care - When you’ve spent 8 or 9 hours staring at your laptop at work, or spent most of the day leisurely watching TV or playing on your phone or tablet, it’s important to know how to wind down. Create a screen-free zone; read a book, go out with your friends or family for a meal or a walk, play a boardgame. Just try to avoid further interaction with screens. And try to avoid any screen time an hour before bed, as this will help you sleep better. 

 

In this technological world, it can be difficult to avoid screens altogether. So much of our life is done through a screen, and so it’s important that you’re aware of the potential risks and how to prevent them. 

So, after reading this, maybe get up, stretch, and go for a walk. 

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