Making Smarter Choices: Screen Time

By: Suzanne Boothby

A healthy lifestyle isn’t just about what’s on your plate. In fact, a growing field of lifestyle medicine takes a look at evidence-based interventions to help address the problem of chronic, lifestyle-related diseases, by recommending approaches such as switching to a whole food, plant-based diet, regular physical activity, adequate sleep, stress management and more.

Screen time is one area that many experts are starting to recognize as something that keeps us sedentary, cuts into quality sleep time and can contributes to stress is our daily lives. From T.V.s to smart phones to other tech devices, our everyday use of electronics is taking a toll.

About 80 percent of people with smartphones check them within the first 15 minutes of waking up, even before they brush their teeth, and then check them constantly throughout the day. Meanwhile, exposure to about 20 minutes of natural light in the morning helps set your internal clock and helps regulate your energy levels, appetite, and metabolism, according to researchers.

Research also shows that bright lights from screens can disrupts the body’s natural production of melatonin, causing us to have trouble falling or staying asleep at night.

This same “light at night” may also be linked to depression in teens, while research has found a significant association between computer and TV use with depression in adults.

Screen time is also linked to metabolic syndrome, which can contribute to high blood pressure, blood sugar dysregulation and obesity, in adolescents as well.

In addition, some adults are dealing with addiction to their screens. Jessica Wong, a technology and addiction expert at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in St. Paul, Minnesota, said that a tech addiction “impacts the same area of the brain as drugs and alcohol,” in an article.

“The signs of digital addiction mimic the signs you see in someone who’s an alcoholic,” she said. “People are constantly nagging them about their use, so they find creative ways to lie or conceal use from their family or spouse. … For example, they’ll sit in the car on their device before they walk in the door. They need to immediately respond to any text alert, and some people even feel ‘phantom vibrations,’ imagining that they received alerts that didn’t actually happen.”

4 Ways to Reduce Screen Time

Screens are here to stay, but by making some changes with how you use them can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle and feel less stress in your daily life.

Out of Sight

Just as you don’t want to keep junk food nearby, it’s all about proximity when it comes to technology. You can start by not eating and scrolling on your phone and ban all screens from the bedroom. Turn off notifications so you don’t hear you phone buzzing from the other room.

Move More

While screen time can impact your ability to focus and feel happy, you can easily combat this with exercise. Movement (especially outside) is great for increasing brain chemicals and hormones that get depleted from spending too much time staring at a screen. Resist the urge to check social media on a break and instead take a 10-minute walk around the block.

Real Talk

Rather than writing an email or posting on someone’s social media feed, take the time to call an old friend or make a date to get a juice or tea together. Human interaction helps boost feel-good hormones like oxytocin, just from having a positive conversation with a friend, family member or colleague.

Digital Detox

Just as you take a few days or weeks to drink only juice, you may want to consider taking one day a week or a few days a month (or more) away from all electronics. A digital detox is defined as a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world. Carve out a little time in nature, away from your phone or computer just to plug back into your own natural rhythm.

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Suzanne Boothby

Suzanne Boothby is an author, journalist, writing coach and wellness instigator who has covered everything from spiritual workouts to kale cocktails. She is a freelance wellness writer for Omega Institute and has published stories on Yahoo! Health News, EdibleBrooklyn.com, NBCNews.com, Eatthispoem.com, and more.

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