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    Private GP Services & Occupational Healthcare in Edinburgh, UK.

    Is it time to limit your screentime?

    Is it time to limit your screentime?

    Posted on April 27th, 2022

    In today’s super-connected world, where would we be without our digital devices? Smartphones, tablets, computers, TVs – we’re now reliant on them for almost everything. They keep us connected with friends and family, they educate and entertain, they offer an escape from the everyday, and they give us the freedom to work from anywhere.

    But with so many of us spending more time than ever using devices, should we all be paying closer attention to the potential damaging effects of this increased screentime? The Occupational Healthcare specialists at YourGP believe we should. Here’s why…

    The science of screentime and problems with sleep
    Back-lit devices such as smartphones and tablets emit blue light which is made of shorter wave lengths. This means our eyes have to work harder to focus, which can cause eye strain when used for long periods of time.

    This blue light can also disrupt melatonin production, a hormone needed to help you fall asleep at night. Using your phone before heading to bed can therefore make drifting off to sleep more difficult, especially if you play games or scroll through newsfeeds, as this engages the brain, making you feel more alert.

    Muscle aches and pains
    The average office worker spends around six and a half hours a day sitting in front of a computer, according to research. When this is followed by after-work ‘downtime’ looking at a laptop on the sofa, or hunched over a mobile phone, this can place considerable strain on your upper body. Over time, it can lead to chronic pain in the neck, shoulders, and back.

    Eye problems
    Those with existing vision problems may find their issues are exacerbated with increased screentime. This can often be because of the computer screen glare, brightness or angle of the screen, or the size of the content on the screen. Common issues include eye strain, light sensitivity, headaches, and increased frequency and severity of migranes. There is also research that suggests people actually blink less frequently when looking at a screen, which can lead to their eyes becoming drier.

    Weight gain
    The more time we spend in front of a screen, the less time we spend being physically active. Couple this with the fact that people tend to eat more food of less nutritional value whilst watching a screen, and it is easy to see why obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases are such growing problems.

    Impact on mental health
    Recent studies have shown an association between screentime and depression. In fact, the findings of a study by Madhav, Sherchand and Sherchan suggest that screentime is a significant risk factor or marker of mental disorders among adults. They also highlighted the impact of screentime on people’s sleep quality which can have a negative knock-on effect on their ability to cope with stress, which can then result in increased anxiety.

    Encouraging healthier habits at work
    With so many of our daily work tasks now carried out online, employers have a responsibility to limit any potential negative impact resulting from screentime. There are many ways in which you can do this:

    1. Step away from your desk: Encourage your team members to spend time away from their computers. Create a special screen-free staff area or space outside where they can relax and enjoy their lunchbreak away from their desk.
    2. Take frequent mini breaks: Encourage your team to take frequent mini breaks throughout the day where they look away from their screens. Ideally, staff should aim for the 20-20-20 rule – for every 20 minutes of screen time, take a 20 second break to look at something 20 feet away in the distance. Use an app or set alarms to remind your team throughout the day.
    3. Stay hydrated: Drinking lots of water and getting plenty of omega 3 (found in foods such as oily fish and walnuts) will help to reduce eye dryness. So too will the frequent application of eye drops.
    4. Respect out-of-office boundaries: Get out of the habit of sending emails during out-of-office hours as this only encourages team members to keep their phones close by, just in case an important email should come through. Instead, unless it is an emergency, schedule emails to be sent during office hours only.
    5. Get active: Counteract the obesity risk of sedentary screentime by making it more active. Invest in a treadmill desk or cycle desk, for example. Or go for the simpler option of introducing ‘walk and talks’ where employees can take part in video call meetings whilst walking.

    Healthier habits to adopt at home
    Of course, the impact of excessive screentime can pose just as much of a problem at home as it can in the office. So whilst at home, why not try the following ideas:

    1. Nightmode: Select the nightmode on your phone to reduce glare and limit eye strain.
    2. Turn it off: Stop using all digital devices one hour before heading to bed to give your body a chance to unwind and become naturally sleepy.
    3. Switch your specs: Invest in blue light-blocking glasses to reduce the risk of eye strain.
    4. Be mindful of your use of time: Use apps to track and limit screentime at home.

    Find out more
    Of course, we’re not suggesting that people should ditch their digital devices for good. However, it is important to be mindful of how much time we are all spending at our screens, raise awareness of the potentially damaging effects that excessive screentime can have, and take active steps to reduce those risks. Get in touch with YourGP’s team of Occupational Health specialists on 0131 225 5656 or email if you would like further help implementing these positive changes in your workplace.


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