by Tanya Goodin, founder Time To Log Off and author OFF
With the average user picking up their phone more than 150x a day, and adults now spending more time on screens than they are asleep, there's no doubt that it's our phone - rather than our partner or friends - that's our constant companion. But being tethered to our phones is coming at a price. Here are six ways in which your phone is affecting both your physical and mental health:
It stops you from sleeping
As your day ends your brain starts to release melatonin (the hormone that reduces alertness and makes you feel sleepy) in order to help induce you to sleep. However, the blue light that's used in screen-based devices like computers and smartphones, has been proven to suppress this release of melatonin, making you more alert and awake, struggling to fall sleep and feeling tired the next day. And you don't even need to use your phone right before bed for it to affect your sleep. A recent study with teenagers found that if they got more than four hours of any kind of screen time during a day, they were more than three times more likely to get a poor night's sleep. If you've been struggling with your sleep lately and you can't pinpoint why, there's a good chance that it's your phone use that's to blame.
It gives you eyestrain and dry eyes
Doctors at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London have recently reported experiencing more and more people turning up at the hospital with symptoms such as dry eyes and swelling which are being caused by long periods at a digital screen. If you look at screens (including phone screens) more than two hours in a row every day you're at the greatest risk for eyestrain. Staring at your phone causes eyestrain because you tend to blink less while using screens (blinking is what moistens your eyes), view your screens at less-than-ideal distances and use your phone in places that cause glare or reflection on the screen.
If you're under 30 you may be even more vulnerable to this. A recent piece of research found that 73% of US adults under 30 said they were experiencing digital eyestrain symptoms - compared to 65% of all US adults.
It raises your anxiety levels
Research has found a link between heavy smartphone use and increased anxiety. That repetitive checking you do of your phone for your latest emails, texts and messages raises your dopamine levels (the brain chemical that responds to rewards) and leaves you in a negative 'feedback cycle' where you check it more and more to get the same chemical response. In fact, a study of teenagers who texted obsessively found that their brain activity was very similar to heavy gamblers in this respect. The term 'nomophobia' has even been coined for those who feel particularly anxious and stressed when they can't access their phone or when it's low on battery.
It gives you neck and back pain
That hunched posture you get into as you bend over your phone screen is not good for your neck and spine. The act of holding your head flexed and forward while looking down at your phone screen places your spine in a precarious position. Maintaining this position over long periods of time can cause muscle strain, disc injury and the risk of developing ongoing neck and shoulder pain, headaches and pain that radiates down the arms. And yes, this even has a snappy name too - 'tech neck'.
It's raising your stress levels
The high frequency of your phone's ring tones, vibration alerts and notifications can play havoc with your stress levels. Remember, they're designed to be hard to ignore, so they get you on edge until you respond. Researchers in Sweden have found that high phone use is particularly associated with stress for women (whereas high phone use is associated with more symptoms of depression in men) so maybe you need to turn your notifications off for a while?
It makes you depressed
Studies show that those who spend a lot of time on their phones, and particularly on social media apps on their phones, are more likely to suffer from depression. One study specifically showed a strong relationship between heavy Facebook use and depressive symptoms, including low self-esteem. Deleting social media apps from your phone, so you reduce the amount of time you spend on them, will definitely help to make you feel happier.
You don't need to give up your phone completely to make some improvements in your health. A regular digital detox - a short period of time where you don't use screens at all - will help you reduce any of the symptoms that you may have been noticing. Good luck!
Off. Your Digital Detox is published by Ilex, £5.99 (www.octopusbooks.co.uk)