Before the pandemic, the average adult spent more than 11 hours a day interacting with electronic screens—from computer monitors to TVs to smartphones. Teenagers were spending roughly seven hours a day. Now that many people are working and learning remotely, daily screen time totals are even higher.
But spending too much time in front of a screen every day is bad for your health on many levels. In addition to causing computer vision syndrome, a constellation of symptoms including eyestrain, headaches and blurred vision, excessive screen time is also a barrier to physical activity. A sedentary lifestyle can put you at greater risk for heart disease and diabetes. Regular exercise is especially important for people with bleeding disorders, because it helps protect against joint bleeds.
Then there are the mental health effects of too much screen time, with some studies linking too much screen time to a higher risk of depression.
How to Reduce Screen Time
So much of our daily lives revolves around technology these days that it’s unrealistic to try to drastically cut back on the time we spend with smartphones and other screens. But there are some steps you can take to get screen time under control and help mitigate its harmful effects.
1. Change your phone settings
If you’re the kind of person who is glued to your phone all day long, a simple way to cut back on screen time is to make a few adjustments in your phone settings. Smartphones now have a “limit screen time” feature that allows you to see how much time you’re spending on apps and also set specific time limits for each app. You can also switch your phone to grayscale mode, which removes the colors from your screen and makes scrolling through social media much less appealing.
Another tip is to turn off all social media notifications, so that your phone isn’t constantly pinging you every five minutes. Better yet, take the social media apps off your phone completely and check in on Twitter or Facebook on your computer instead.
2. Get off screens at least one hour before bedtime
Late-night screen time can sabotage your sleep in a couple of different ways. Scrolling through social media posts, playing Words with Friends or doing other activities on your phone will stimulate your brain and keep you from settling down for the night. Plus, the blue light that your phone emits can suppress levels of melatonin, which is a hormone that controls your body’s sleep-wake cycles.
Aim to turn off all screens about one to two hours before you want to fall asleep. If you’ve gotten in the habit of using your phone as an alarm clock, get a simple digital alarm clock instead and keep your phone charged in another room overnight.
3. Set aside other screen-free times during the day
In addition to making late-night hours screen-free, you can also purposely turn off screens at other times during the day. For instance, you can start by making a “no phones at the dinner table” rule, and keep the phone out of the bathroom.
You can even take it one step further and designate one weekend day when everyone in the family puts the phones away so that you can focus on fun communal screen-free activities such as board games or jigsaw puzzles.
4. Get outdoors
For children and adolescents, an antidote to too much screen time is spending time in nature, aka “green time,” according to a 2020 study by Australian researchers. But adults benefit from time outside, too. Studies have found that a walk in the park can be good for your health. And yes, it’s OK to bring your smartphone along so you can snap a few pretty pictures.