Our phones connect us to anyone and everyone around the world. With just the tap of a finger, we could be video calling a distant relative, streaming an informative newscast or arranging a job interview overseas. Life has been wholly changed with these indispensable connective devices we hold in the palms of our hands.
As a result of our love for this incredibly convenient technology, screen time has increased to unhealthy amounts for children, teens and adults alike. Research shows this excess screen time can potentially lead to long-term medical conditions and even impaired brain function. Here is a look into a few ways daily device use can negatively impact a person’s mind and body.
The Negative Effects of Too Much Screen Time on the Mind
Screen addiction operates the same as it does for other habit-forming behaviors in that it’s a biochemical consequence of overstimulating the reward center of the brain, which then induces an addictive state. How does it work?
As we spend time on our devices, a rush of pleasure-inducing dopamine is released that activates the brain’s reward center. The mind experiences a sense of euphoria with this dopamine just as it would when consuming a caffeinated beverage. However, over time, the body becomes desensitized and seeks a higher intensity of the same experience as it increasingly craves the release. The end result is getting caught up in a cycle of screen addiction.
What’s more, this cycle could develop at any stage of life. Too much exposure to the instant gratification or entertainment these devices provide can trigger the neurochemical reactions that form addiction in toddlers, seniors and anyone in between.
A person’s mental health can be seriously affected by screen time through negative encounters online, desensitization to violent content and an increase in anti-social tendencies. More terrifying than this is the fact that screen time can actually alter the structure of the brain.
Neuroscientific research has revealed the grey matter responsible for cognitive processes actually shrinks with screen time. It also produces a deformity in white matter, which facilitates communication through chemical signals within the brain. Damage to these essential brain tissues may lead to weaker memory and impulse control, slower information processing and poor concentration.
Have you heard of blue light? It’s the light used to illuminate digital screens so we can read, scroll and watch day or night. This light has the ability to interfere with sleep. By using mobile phones and other devices before bedtime, this blue light subjects the brain to unnatural illumination, which affects the production of melatonin, a sleep hormone produced within the body.
When melatonin levels are repeatedly disrupted, it may cause changes in brain activity, making it harder to fall asleep and leading to poor sleep patterns. Cutting screen time or opting for a blue light filter may help those suffering from these disturbances.
Learning Delays in Young Children
A child’s mind rapidly develops as he or she grows. When exposed to excessive screen time, a child’s brain structure can be altered, impacting the capability to learn. For instance, studies have found as much as a 50% higher delay in language development for every 30 minutes of TV time, educational or not. This stems from the TV passively hindering brain activity and engagement. Instead, young children should be physically exploring the world around them and participating in mentally stimulating activities.
Ways Screen Time Can Potentially Harm the Body
Eye, Back, Neck and Shoulder Strain
Staring at a screen for long periods of time, whether for work or pleasure, takes a serious toll on a person’s eyes. It can dry them out, lead to retina damage and even produce blurred vision. Often, posture is bad during these time-frames, with lazy slouching and poor body ergonomics. Having a sedentary lifestyle with poor posture like this could contribute to aches, strains and pains in the back, neck, shoulders and all over the body.
Increased Susceptibility to Obesity and Other Chronic Health Conditions
Speaking of sedentary lifestyles, the inactive nature of device use generally leads to a lack of physical activity. Without proper exercise, a person can experience weight gain to the point of obesity. To make matters worse, a heightened risk of obesity can also lead to a higher susceptibility to type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other chronic illnesses. To avoid being vulnerable to these health risks, it’s essential to reduce screen time, get adequate exercise and refrain from unhealthy food choices.
Compromised Immune System
Lastly, daily devices can make a person sick in relation to bacteria as well. Certain germs are capable of living on surfaces for hours and could be effortlessly transferred to our hand-held devices. If not cleaned properly, it’s all too easy to expose an individual to the germs responsible for influenza, E. coli and so much more.
Going Forward, Moderation Is Key
Device use isn’t all bad. It has the power to keep us informed, make us more health-conscious and connect us socially. The key is to make a conscious decision to moderate screen time whenever possible and, therefore, reduce the risk of addiction, mental impairment, poor posture and the other negative effects.
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