What Is All This Screen Time Doing to Our Health?

Submitted by: Phil Riebel 02/02/2015

Reading on paper may have more advantages than you think!

This blog by Phil Riebel originally appeared on the PI World.com website on January 15, 2015.

From working at a computer to socializing, playing games, paying bills, taking notes in class, doing homework, reading books, watching TV and texting, we are all spending an increasing amount of our lives looking at screens. But at what cost to our health?

To start with, screen time is very hard on our eyes. More and more people who use screens for at least four hours a day are experiencing symptoms which include eyestrain, tired eyes, irritation, redness, blurred vision, and double vision, collectively referred to as computer vision syndrome.(i)

Reading on a screen is more demanding than reading printed material. Online reading requires frequent saccadic eye movements (rapid movements of the eyes that abruptly change the point of fixation) and continuous focusing which are visually and physically fatiguing(ii). We tend to blink less when looking at screens meaning our eyes dry out more and dry eye disorders may be the result.(iii, iv) Although not generally serious they can result in more frequent eye infections and inflammation(v).

Use of light-emitting devices before bedtime can confuse our natural internal clocks, prolong the time it takes to fall asleep and suppress the level of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin. A Harvard Medical School study compared the effect of reading an iPad or a paperback before bedtime on 12 young adults(vi). After five days, those using E-readers took longer to fall asleep, had a delay in their body clock, spent less time in ‘deep sleep’ and had reduced alertness the following morning compared to the same people reading a book. When this is added to the fact that light from screens increases alertness causing us to delay bedtime, significant disturbances in sleep patterns and daytime functioning can result(vii).

Watching TV and playing video games are associated with a significant increase in blood pressure(viii). In contrast, each hour spent reading is associated with a decrease.

Too much screen time has also been linked to obesity, behavioral problems in children, poor parent-child interactions and low academic performance although the wider home environment is also critical(ix). Extensive use of digital media limits face-to-face interactions that teach children to understand nonverbal emotional cues like facial expression and voice tone which are important to personal, social and academic outcomes. Preteens, who spent five days at an outdoor camp without screen-based media, increased their opportunities for face-to-face socialization and significantly improved their understanding of nonverbal emotional cues compared to preteens who retained their usual media practices(x).

All in all, too much screen time, especially before bedtime, can take a toll on our health and well-being.

(i)Blehm, C., Vishnu, S., Khattak, A., Mitra, S., & Yee, R. W. (2005). Computer vision syndrome: a review. Survey of ophthalmology, 50(3), 253-262.

(ii)Tseng, M.c. (2014). Computer Vision Syndrome for Non-native Speaking Students: What are the Problems with Online Reading? Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 25(4), 551-567. Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

(iii)Rosenfield M. Computer vision syndrome: a review of ocular causes and potential treatments. Ophthalmic Physiol Opt 2011, 31, 502–515. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-1313.2011.00834.x

(iv)Galbis-Estrada C, Pinazo-Durán MD, Escrivá-Pastor E, Parras MA, RIbelles A (2013) Cytokine/Chemokine Expression in Reflex Tears from Employers Exposed to Computer Screens in a Healthy Office Environment. Intern Med 3:124. doi: 10.4172/2165-8048.1000124

(v)http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-eyes/basics/complications/con-20024129Opens in a new window

(vi)Chang, A. M., Aeschbach, D., Duffy, J. F., & Czeisler, C. A. (2014). Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201418490.
(vii)Melton, B. F., Bigham, L. E., Bland, H. W., Bird, M., & Fairman, C. (2014). Health-related Behaviors and Technology Usage among College Students. American journal of health behavior, 38(4), 510-518.

(viii)Gopinath B, Baur LA, Hardy LL, et al. Relationship between a range of sedentary behaviors and blood pressure during early adolescence.

(ix)Public Health England. (2013).What do we really know about the effects of screen time on mental health? http://www.theguardian.com/science/head-quarters/2013/aug/29/screen-time-mental-health-childrenOpens in a new window

(xx)Uhls, Y. T., Michikyan, M., Morris, J., Garcia, D., Small, G. W., Zgourou, E., & Greenfield, P. M. (2014). Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues. Computers in Human Behavior, 39, 387-392.

Source: This blog by Phil Riebel originally appeared on the PI World.com website on January 15, 2015