The numbers have spoken: it's time we take a closer look at how much screen time is too much. Eighty-four percent of cell phone users say they couldn’t go a day without their device. Studies show that cell phone users check their devices every 6.5 minutes. Other research shows that the average person's TV viewing eats up six days per month. Not that we really need statistics to tell us what we already know—we’re all addicted to our screens.
I recently had the opportunity to take a break from all digital media and communication technology. I spent three days without using a computer, watching TV, or using phones (except when it was absolutely necessary). If you don't think you can really unplug for that long, trust me, it’s totally doable. Here's why you should limit screen time and why it's good for your health.
01. For More Fulfilling Relationships
When I unplugged, I found myself having more real-life conversations with the people around me. If there were no other benefits besides this, I would encourage you to try leaving your phone at home. Making real-world connections gave me a sense of fulfillment, which should come as no surprise. A study done on thirty-five adults who were forced to give up their devices found that, without phones, we form more meaningful conversations and deeper friendships. When you aren’t staring at a screen, you are forced to be more aware of whoever is around you. Who knows where the conversation will go? You might even meet a great guy or make a new friend.
02. Find Your Peace
With the extra time I freed up, I was able to complete things I normally assumed I didn't have enough “time” to do. By unplugging from the digital world, I became more aware of the physical world, which did wonders for my mental health. I spent my time reading actual print books (reading fiction helps you de-stress, focus, and sleep better), praying more, and spending more time in silence. I felt more at peace and mindful of the world around me.
03. Get Better Sleep
While my digital detox was only three days long, I immediately noticed a difference in my sleep quality. Screens are usually the last thing I look at before I go to bed and the first thing I peruse before I get up in the morning. Researchers at Harvard Medical School looked into the connection between screens and insomnia. Unsurprisingly, they found that heavy screen usage is a major cause of restless sleep. The most common side effects of not getting enough sleep include moodiness, lowered immune system, and compromised productivity—definitely not things we need!
04. Stress Less
Heavy technology use has been linked to fatigue, stress, and depression, especially in young adults. In a study out of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, researchers discovered a clear link between over-use of technology and social media and mental health risk. Scientists linked heavy social media use with depressive symptoms. Similarly, U.K. psychologists found that technology-addicted people are more likely to suffer from depression. If you might be addicted, there is still hope. One study found that as phone usage decreased, so did anxiety.
05. Improve Your Focus
I always struggle with trying to do seventeen different things at a time. I will check email at the same time that I am writing a paper at the same time I’m eating dinner at the same time I am sending a text off and at the same time that I am queuing the next fifteen songs I want to listen to while doing all of the above. But when I closed the laptop and put down my phone, I cut back on multitasking. Plenty of research reveals that multitasking isn't efficient. In one UK study, those who multitasked while working on cognitive tests dropped an IQ level—equivalent to missing a full night's sleep or smoking marijuana. By stepping back from screens, I was able to regain my focus and increase my productivity.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time to one hour of high-quality media per day. And while there are no official screen time recommendations for adults, it does encourage enforcing consistent limits on media-free times and media-free spaces such as the bedroom. If you do decide to limit your screen time to a few hours per day or none at all on the weekend, you may find you like it so much that your habits will be forever changed.
Photo Credit: Elissa Voss