What do you do right before you fall asleep? If you’re like many American adults today, you probably do something on your phone.
The average American today spends more than 7 hours a day staring at one digital screen or another. Between our phones and TVs, the hours can add up. If you do work or schoolwork on a computer, you may well spend an extra eight hours staring at a bright screen every day.
Unfortunately, all of this screen time can affect our health. But there’s good news, too: you can take action to minimize the negative effects of your digital life.
Screen Time and Your Circadian Rhythm
We all have a natural circadian rhythm that tells our bodies when we should be awake and when we should sleep. For most of human history, our circadian rhythms kept us on a schedule based on our surrounding environment. In today’s world, however, these rhythms are often thrown off by blue light from screens.
When the sun sets, our bodies generally produce melanin to help us fall asleep. Blue light, however, can disrupt this process and make our bodies think we need to stay awake longer. Smartphones, televisions, computer screens, tablets, LED lights, and e-readers are all common culprits.
Chronically misaligned circadian rhythms and sleep problems can impact our mental health and cause metabolic disorders. Fortunately, there are several ways to avoid blue light exposure-related problems:
- Use “night mode” or dimming settings. Many electronic devices have a setting that allows you to reduce the blue light output, either by tinting everything on the screen or by reducing the total amount of light. If there isn’t a built-in setting, there may be an app you can use.
- Turn off electronics early when possible. If you can, try to turn off electronics 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. You can wind down with calming activities like reading a physical book, working out puzzles on paper, crocheting, coloring with an adult coloring book, or just listening to music.
- Find better light sources. If your lamp or overhead light emits blue or daylight-colored light, try switching to a warmer-toned light source. Red or orange lamps and candles work well.
Computer Vision Syndrome
Computer Vision Syndrome, or digital eye strain, is an increasingly common problem in the post-pandemic era. It’s estimated that over half of people who work on computers experience some combination of eyestrain, blurred vision, dry eyes, headaches, neck and back pain, or similar symptoms.
Fortunately, you can reduce digital eye strain symptoms. An easy trick is to follow the 20-20-20 rule: Take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes.
You can also reduce digital eye strain by improving your seating posture and viewing distance, reducing glare on your screen, and treating any uncorrected vision problems.
Screens may be an unavoidable part of 21st-century life, but they don’t have to cause serious health problems. With the right steps, you can reduce the negative impacts of blue light and screen time in your life.