These Are All the Ways Screen Time Harms Your Health, According to Doctors
These side effects of too much screen time may convince you to take a break from your devices.
In many ways, technology has helped us make great strides toward living healthier lives. It's provided us with innovative tools like fitness trackers that monitor our heart rates 24/7, insulin pumps to treat diabetes, and even robots that can perform surgery. However, that isn't to say that technology isn't without its share of downsides. When used in excess, the devices you interact with every day—like your smart phone, your television, and your computer, for example—can have negative effects on everything from your eyes to your heart. We talked to doctors to learn the most dangerous side effects of too much screen time that everyone should know.
It increases your risk of heart disease.
Sitting on your phone or computer all day isn't exactly conducive to living an active lifestyle. And that's why too much screen time can lead to poor heart health. A 2011 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that people who devote four or more hours to screen-based entertainment daily are more than twice as likely to experience a major cardiac event compared to those who spend two hours or less per day in front of a screen.
It gives you "tech neck."
Most people look down at their phone screens at an awkward 45-degree angle. And when you're doing that for most of the day, it can cause what's called "tech neck"—a painful condition that starts in your neck and can radiate all the way down to your lower back.
And that's not all. "The time we spend staring down at our phone screens is a hazard for the cervical spine," says David Clark Hay, MD, an orthopedic hand and wrist surgeon. Putting this kind of pressure on the spine, according to The Spine Hospital at the Neurological Institute of New York, can eventually lead to a herniated disc.
And a bad case of "text thumb."
"Most people hold their cell phone in one hand and use that thumb to control it, but the joints and muscles in the thumb just are not designed for that type of position and usage," Hay says about the phenomenon known as "text thumb." Thanks to the "tug-of-war between the tendons flexing and extending the thumb," this awkward positioning can lead to some serious pain, he says.
Spending too much time on the computer can have the same effect. "Too much typing and repetitive motion of the thumb overexerts the thumb's tendons," Hay explains. "They can become inflamed and develop tendonitis, which brings with it pain, throbbing, and motion loss in the affected area."
It causes, or heightens, your anxiety.
Our devices provide countless conveniences, but it's important to understand that the more time you spend in front of screens, the more likely you are to develop anxiety. That's according to a 2014 study published in Computers in Human Behavior, which found that cell phone usage among college students was correlated with increased anxiety and decreased general happiness.
It contributes to poor sleeping patterns.
All of the blue light that your electronic devices emit messes with your body's circadian rhythm. As the National Sleep Foundation explains, "the more electronic devices that a person uses in the evening, the harder it is [for them] to fall asleep or stay asleep." A lack of sleep can lead to health issues like hypertension, obesity, and diabetes, so it's a good idea to limit your screen time before bed.
It puts a strain on your eyes.
One of the most well-known effects of too much screen time is eye strain. "When we are engaged in concentrated near activities, our brain suppresses blinking and our eyes become tired and dry," explains surgical neuro-ophthalmologist Howard R. Krauss, MD.
To help identify if screens are taking a toll on you, Krauss notes that symptoms "may include aching of and around the eyes, headache and neck ache, difficulty refocusing at distance, and dryness of the eyes with burning, stinging, tearing, [or] redness."
And may even cause blurred vision.
"With computers, smartphones, and tablets, we see reductions in focusing strength," explains optometrist Leigh Plowman. "When our pupil size changes or when we bring something closer to stare at it [like a phone], our vision may become overwhelmed. This can cause blurred vision."